Disclaimer: Any characters you recognize in this story are the property of Disney and their likenesses are only used for fan related purposes. Any original characters featured are the intellectual property of their creators.
To the Waters and the Wild
October 13, 1898
For the first mile and a half, Kathleen McElroy couldn't shake the feeling that she was being followed. She would look over her shoulder when the suspicion bordered more on certainty but there was no one behind her—or, she allowed, no one she could see. The highlands of the village were awash with thick trees and autumn foliage so beautiful they made you want to cry, except then it would be even harder to see through the tears.
She tried to act like the strange sense wasn't bothering her, going so far as to chide herself silently for being so silly. There wasn't a soul around apart from the birds and the beasts, and if there was, so what? What was there to fear in Leitrim?
Of course, she had just had that thought when, all of a sudden, the early afternoon air was filled with a sharp snapping sound, a muffled curse and the irritated squawking of a disturbed nest.
Now there was no doubt that someone was near. His clumsiness had lost him any element of surprise he might have been working on and she was facing the trees expectantly by the time a stumbling figure sheepishly appeared. He was tall and lanky, a well-fed scarecrow. His hair was a lighter shade than her chestnut brown, and wavier too. He had his mother's eyes, a warm hazel rather than the icy McElroy blue. She knew him at once, even at the distance.
It was Gideon. She should have expected this. No one else could have had the chance to start off after her and she'd gone this way so many times, she knew exactly what path to take to avoid being seen.
She sighed and paused, waiting for him to catch up to her. After all, he'd come all this way. Let him have his say.
Gideon must have heard the sound because he sucked in his breath as he approached, puffing out his chest and drawing himself up to his full height; it was hardly necessary, seeing as how he was more than a head or two taller than her, but it made him feel more in charge. Nearly three years older than his sister, sometimes Gideon took it upon himself to play the role of her father, especially considering how absent her real one was. She hated it. He had never noticed.
"Kit," he said, and she tried to ignore the disapproval in his tone, even as he called her by her childhood nickname, "you know you're not supposed to be out here on your own. What would the old man say?"
Did she care? Would he? "Why? You proposin' to tell him about this?"
Kit's barb was just pointed and sharp enough to deflate her brother. He exhaled slightly. "Well, no—"
"'Cause then you know I'd have to tell him what I caught you and Maizie Kelly doin' out behind the pigpen last week."
Gideon gasped, his freckled cheeks staining pink. "You promised—"
"Aye," she said, and the innocent smile she sported would be no less at home on a cherubim, "and you gave your word that you would stop all this followin' me around rubbish." Kit lost her smile and crossed her arms over her chest. "What I do in the afternoons is my business," she reminded him.
"It's not like the whole village doesn't know where you go."
"It's not Leitrim's business, either, Gideon."
The ice in her voice was chilly enough to make her brother shiver. He rubbed his hands on his arms, a quick movement as if he was embarrassed by his own response, and then he dropped his left arm back to his side. His right hand he used to ruffle his hair before he burst out with: "You could have the pick of any man in the village and you choose him? The old man would send you away just like Uncle Charlie if he ever knew!"
"Gideon," she began in warning, ignoring his mild threat, "it's not like that and ya know it."
"Oh, so you're not on your way to see James Harding?"
Kit took a deep breath and exhaled quickly, spitting the air back out through gritted teeth. It was a sharp whistle that was hardly any softer than the words that followed. "He's my mate. He's the only one I can talk to that's not you, and I'm not so certain that I want to do that any longer. I'm not like your Maizie," she added, and if she wasn't so aggravated at having this same argument again, she might've delighted at just how pink he'd gone at the mere mention of Maizie Kelly's name. "I just want to keep my friend... I never thought you'd be the one to take that away from me."
"I'm sorry, Kit," he apologized, slightly abashed and ashamed at her words, "that's not what I was inferrin' at all." He meant it, too. Gideon preferred it when Kit yelled and made a fuss; the quiet unnerved him and made him feel guilty for following after her—which, of course, was her intent. Still he went on to add, because he had to, "All the same, even you have got to see it's not right. A farm that big, they can't spare a one of their five sons and yet... they let the youngest tinker about, fiddlin' with those silly inventions—"
"They're not silly, they're brilliant!" cut in Kit loyally. Her voice had climbed until it wasn't a murmur but a barely restrained shout instead. It was a struggle not to let her temper flare and with her brother the only one around to serve as witness, Kit didn't think she would care if she did lose it.
Gideon obviously did. He raised his hand in a placating gesture, trying to calm her. "Brilliant or no, he should be toilin' the land like his brothers. Like his folks."
"Mrs. Harding thinks they're brilliant, too."
He could see he wasn't going to win this argument; he never had before but that didn't stop him from attempting to time and time again. Kit would forever deny that her attachment to Jimmy Harding was the least bit romantic, but there was no denying that she was definitely attached to the farmer's youngest boy.
Still, he gave it one last try: "All I'm sayin' is it's not right, tinkerin' with those machines when there's good, honest work that could be done. An Gorta Mór may be over, Kit, but there's those that are still starvin'."
Kit stopped listening to him when he mentioned good, honest work; that usually signaled the end of her actually trying to see his point. As the son of the richest man in Village Leitrim—County Leitrim, too, if not more of Ireland—Gideon had never had to put his hands to good, honest work. Only her affection for her brother, even with his block-headed, if well-intentioned, comments, kept her from responding.
That wasn't to say that her patience wasn't wearing thin. It was. Every minute spent arguing with Gideon was another minute wasted. This was the first time in close to a week she dared head out on her own. Of course Gideon would try his best to stop her, probably in some sort of skewed sense of propriety. It was laughable, really, and if she wasn't already taking too much time, she might have found a smidge of pleasure in baiting her brother.
Sometimes, it was just too easy.
Kit crossed her arms over her chest and looked up at Gideon. "I think we might be at an impasse here then, brother. You seem set that I shouldn't go—"
Gideon nodded solemnly, just as she expected.
"—and I've already given my word that I'd visit me friend today. Are ya really gonna try and keep me from goin'? It' just Jimmy," she added, though she was perfectly aware that that was the exact reason why her brother wanted to stop her in the first place.
For a moment, one terse moment, it seemed like Gideon was going to keep on arguing. That he was going to insist that she follow him back home and Kit... she wouldn't listen, no, but she might actually feel a touch bad about disobeying him when all he was doing was, as best he could, look out for her.
And then he deflated fully and she knew that she had, like always, won out.
"All right, but what should I tell the old man?"
At that Kit laughed. It was such a wry laugh, one you wouldn't expect from such a petite and lovely creature. Her eyes flashed coldly. "Ah, Gideon, I think you and I both know that you won't be needin' to tell Da anything at all. He's far too satisfied pretendin' not to see me sneakin' out of the house to start askin' questions now."
Gideon didn't have anything to say in reply. Partly because he recognized that glint in his sister's eyes, and mostly because, well, he knew she was right.
Because of her confrontation with her brother, by the time Kit arrived at the waterfall Jimmy was already waiting for her, resting up against a massive, moss-covered boulder that sat in the center of the clearing that blossomed from the edge.
James Harding was a short, stocky young man—short for a man, but still a head or so taller than Kit—with fair hair, closer to the color of straw than anything else, that stuck up at odd angles. He wasn't all that handsome, with his crooked nose that always looked broken (courtesy of having four older brothers, sometimes it was) and a walnut-sized burn on his cheek below his right eye, but there was just something about him that made him likeable. Sometimes, thought Kit, it was the fact that Jimmy seemed able to find the good in anyone else.
Including—and this is what surprised her the most—her.
Kit waved her hand at him and Jimmy beckoned her closer with his. He had an infectious laugh, a soothing, soft sort of chuckle that always seemed to dispel any gloom that hung over her head. Though she almost tripped in the grass, Kit hurried over to where he was waiting for her.
Then, as was her custom, she folded the skirt of her expensive frock underneath her, hardly caring if it got torn or soiled, and then sank to the ground at Jimmy's feet, resting her side along the edge of the boulder he was so fond of leaning up against. She poked him in the knee of his trouser. "So," she said abruptly, though she smiled winningly up at her friend as she held out her hand, "did you get it?"
Jimmy nodded, taking the chance to return her smile first before he answered her. "I nicked it from Connor's supply when he slipped out of bed last night." He drew a crinkled hand-rolled cigarette out of his pocket, loose tobacco shag fluttering to the grass as he leaned over and placed the thing against Kit's waiting palm with a mildly distasteful expression. "I don't know how you can smoke these things."
Kit stuck her tongue out while trying to straighten out the fold in the fold. "Aye, and it's your fault, Jimmy Harding, so don't you go on pretendin' otherwise."
That was true. Jimmy had four older brothers—Connor, Seamus, Mark and Daniel—and each and every one of them smoked. Last year, on the eve of Jimmy's fifteenth birthday, he decided it was time he picked up the habit. It lasted all of half the first cigarette. Red in the face and choking from the smoke, he heard Kit's laughter and offered the rest to her cheekily to see if she could do better. The funny thing—at least to Kit, not so much to Jimmy—was that she did. One year later and she craved the taste, even if she only got to taste it when Jimmy pilfered one for her.
She had snuck a box of her father's matches in the front pocket of her frock. Still a little hesitant when it came to striking the match and catching the fire, she offered it out to Jimmy who did it for her without batting an eye. Kit had the cigarette perched precariously on the edge of her lips. She inhaled just enough for the flame to ignite the tip when Jimmy placed it to the ends. Ah... much better.
"You know," Jimmy said, his voice a soft tinkle like the water streaming in the brook, "if I didn't know any better meself, I'd think you'd only come here for a wee taste of Harding tobacco."
"That's not true," Kit argued, her words mumbled and nearly lost. She removed the cigarette, keeping it between her second and third fingers as if it belonged there. "But thank ya anyway," she told him, remembering her manners at last. She paused. "And it's not like it's the only reason..."
Jimmy just blew out the match before the flame licked his fingers. And then he laughed again.
Kit was trying to teach herself to exhale rings of smoke. The closest she had come was to making a sort of oblong shape that happened when she inhaled too deeply and coughed the smoke out. There were wrinkles in her brow as she concentrated. She could spare only a smidgen of attention for Jimmy just then.
"Samain," he repeated. "It's at the end of the month already. You doin' anything for it, Kit?"
She shook her head, hoping this wasn't going where she thought it was. Please don't let him mention—
"Only, the village is all talkin' about the grand gathering you father will be throwin'. All the nobs are gonna be there." Jimmy waited for a second. "Not me, though. My family's not invited."
Kit closed her eyes. Ah, so it was going there. She blew out another lungful of smoke and then murmured, "Me, neither."
When he didn't say anything, she peeked over at him. Jimmy was watching her with a playful expression, an easy-going curve to his grin and laugh-lines creasing the ends of his eyes. The red shiny patch of his burn—a memento left of an early invention gone sour—wasn't as noticeable when he grinned like that.
She gave her head a royal, defiant shake. "Da would rather swig poteen in the pigpen than let any of his guests set eye on his wayward daughter."
"You can spend Samain with me then," offered Jimmy kindly.
Kindly, thought Kit, which somehow made it worse. "I won't be a burden to your folks," she said loftily, thinking of Mr. and Mrs. Harding: tired, careworn, and still far kinder than Kit could ever remember her father being. "You celebrate with your family, Jim, I'll sit with Gideon if he'll have me."
"Or we could go alone, me and you. Sneak out while they're all celebratin', right? No one'll see us go, we can meet somewhere nice," he added, letting his hand fall and settle on her shoulder, almost as if it was a fair coincidence that it landed there, "maybe even go dancin' on the hilltop—"
"Tell me about your newest invention," Kit interrupted, jerking away from him as she jumped to her feet. She threw the spent cigarette roughly to the grass and mashed it with her heel, looking at Jimmy out of the corner of eye. Pity... she swore she could see it there. She attempted an expression of pure interest. "How's it coming along?"
If was there was one topic of conversation she longed to avoid, it was the topic of her father, his status, his wealth, his snobbery toward the rest of Village Leitrim, almost as if he thought he was too good for the rest of them; if there was another, it was how Jimmy felt their friendship was something they had to hide when, if Kit had it her way, she would tell the whole of the village that she preferred him as a friend to any of the local girls. As it was, she sometimes wondered if he only accepted her company because he pitied her, but always pushed those thoughts aside. This was Jimmy, after all.
On the other hand, though, there was nothing he liked to talk about more than his inventions and they both knew it. Her intentions were as transparent as a glass window but they were both too used to pulling the curtains closed in their way to acknowledge that.
Still, Jimmy squinted just enough to be noticeable, his eyes narrowed knowingly at her angry display but, wisely, said nothing. At least, not about her reaction. Taking a deep breath, he launched into the specifics of his new invention—some sort of advanced harvester that would make his family's work on the farm even more successful—while Kit, after a few tense moments, resumed her seat at his feet, trying her best to listen while pretending, if only for the moment, that she wasn't Kathleen McElroy.
And that's how they spent the afternoon—like they did most afternoons when Mr. Harding hadn't roped his boy into leaving his inventions and Kit avoided Mr. McElroy long enough to sneak out for the whole of midday. And then the sun would begin to set and Kit would set back off for home, leaving Jimmy to make the even longer trek back to his family's farm.
No witnesses, no village gossip, just two childhood chums who didn't know what to do or, in Kit's case, didn't give a damn about what was expected of them now that they were grown. They could be together. Alone. Comfortable, even.
It was about two hours into the visit when it happened. Jimmy had talked her ear off about his new invention, laughing contentedly to himself when her soft snuffles meant that Kit had dozed off partway through the explanation. She woke up later with the smell of dirt and grass and the glorious fresh air of the hilltop in her nose, aware that she was leaning her cheek against Jimmy's shin.
Lazily, she pulled away from him and rested the back of her head against his calf. Jimmy teased her, just like he always teased her, and she swatted him playfully. With a simple question about the harvest—anything to keep the subject falling back on Samain—Jimmy was off, talking again, when all of a sudden—
"Kit! I knew I'd find you here!"
At the sound of her name, Kit was on her feet, wide awake and alert, searching for the source. She whirled around, desperate to see who had found her and Jimmy, her eyes flashing darkly she recognized the shadow slipping silently from the safety of the trees. He was better this time. Not so clumsy. Kit had never expected this.
After that morning, she probably she should have.
"Gideon?" What was he doing there? How long had he been watching? She scowled, one hand balled into an angry fist at her sides. The other she clamped over her breast, trying to still her fluttering heart. "Oh, Gideon, I should tan your hide, I should! What did I tell you about followin' me 'round? Followin' me here?"
Her brother paused, keeping a good distance between where he stood and Kit visibly fumed. Because, if there was one thing Gideon McElroy knew better than any man in all of Leitrim, it was this: his sister may be a tiny thing on the outside but her ferocity, the amount of pent-up anger she could store in so small a frame... she was like a bottle of that bubbly champagne his father favored, pretty on the outside but give her a shake and it didn't take much to make her explode. It was no wonder that, despite being nearly twice her size, he lingered on the edge of the clearing. If simply following behind her—as she accused—wasn't enough to set Kit off, then intruding on her when she was sitting out with Jimmy Harding was.
Gideon glanced over at the younger boy leaning lazily up against a moss-covered boulder, right next to Kit. He offered him a pleading nod, silently entreating Jimmy for help as he greeted him cordially, "Afternoon, Harding."
"McElroy," said Jimmy with a leisurely wave back. Jimmy and Gideon had never really got on—the only thing they shared in common was an affection for Kit—but the farmer's son caught the hint and nodded all the same. Then, reaching with the hand he'd been waving out, he let it rest gently on Kit's arm. "Be nice," he told her softly, "I'm sure your brother didn't choose to walk back all this way again unless he felt he had to. He must have a reason... why not ask him?"
"What?" Kit had been glaring daggers up at Gideon but stopped when she felt the slight pressure of Jimmy's warm hand and realized that he was talking to her. She listened, the dark edge to her gaze fading slightly, before she let out a huff that Gideon couldn't help but hear.
"Oh, fine," she said, though she was grinning a bit, a strained grin but a grin all the same, "put it that way, Jim, and I can't help but seein' your point." She turned to look at her brother who, knowing full well how Kit felt about this place, couldn't bring himself to move any closer. "What's your reason, Gideon? Why are you here?"
For a moment he didn't answer; he just marveled. Gideon couldn't understand it, how Jimmy Harding was the only person who could get Kit to listen these days. His sister had always been difficult but after their mother's death... He saw the way she deferred to Jimmy, how Kit agreed with him while looking at his bright, honest face in such an openly trusting, adoring way that Gideon momentarily experienced a rare rush of jealousy.
Maizie Kelly never looked at him like that.
And it wasn't like he didn't have a reason to trek this far after his sister. He did... and then he remembered precisely what that reason was and his heart sank down to his feet.
"I wasn't followin' ya, Kit, I swear. I was simply comin' to... to collect you."
Quick as a flash, Kit's guarded expression was back. She ached for another cigarette but knew there weren't any left; Jimmy had only brought the one he thought Connor wouldn't miss. Besides, she wasn't so forward that she would let her brother see her walking around with one, her supposing to be a lady and Gideon too easily scandalized.
She licked her lips and took a deep breath. "Aye? And for what?"
"The old man. He wants to see you."
The old man... each and everyone in the clearing knew who Gideon meant.
While Kit was still young—being only one month shy of her sixteenth birthday—and, well, female enough to call her father "Da", Gideon referred to Joseph McElroy as "Sir" when in his company and "the old man" when out of it. That was one thing Kit often wondered about, why Gideon did that, but she could never bring herself to ask.
Just like she couldn't bring herself to ask about her father now.
"Oh." Kit looked away from her brother only to search out Jimmy. Another unsaid questioning hung right there in the air.
Jimmy nodded. "You should go," he said, already starting to rise from his slouched position. "I'll make sure to be waiting for you here tomorrow if you come."
The defiant edge that lived in her voice these days was eerily missing as Kit simply replied, "Aye."
Neither one of them noted that, if Mr. McElroy had summoned his only daughter to see him, there might not be another secret meeting between the two outcast friends again, tomorrow or otherwise.
Kit McElroy, by nature, wasn't a very curious girl. Things were either the way they were or they weren't and worrying about them, wondering over them, asking herself countless questions over that which she had no control... what good would it do? Her father called for her, he sent Gideon to retrieve her—both undeniable facts—and she followed after her older brother without another word on the subject.
Gideon, plenty of worries on his mind—because, unlike Kit, he was of the worrying sort—knew better than to try and get his sister talking. He was too preoccupied with his father's unusual command and what it might mean for Kit and him both to try any aimless chatting on a subject that wouldn't interest either of them.
Therefore they spent the two mile journey back to the McElroy House—house being too simple a word for the grand manor Joseph McElroy owned which told you exactly what sort of man McElroy was—in companionable silence. Gideon opened the gate, ushering Kit in first, and then let the iron trap shut with a click that sounded all too ominous to the girl.
They went in past the infamous pigpen, past the decorative haystacks, and through the back in order to avoid the servants, Gideon leading the way straight to their father's study on the ground floor of the house. When they arrived at last, promptly because Kit didn't have it in her heart to bait her anxious brother by dawdling, Gideon gave her one last apologetic look before knocking on the grand mahogany door before them.
Mr. McElroy never responded to the first knock, not even when he was expecting company—his children or anyone else. Gideon paused for the appropriate amount of time then knocked again. Partway through that second rapping a stern, no-nonsense sort of voice rang out:
"I hope, for the sake of who's knocking, that it's you, Gideon, my boy."
Gideon barely found his voice in time to answer. "Yes, sir."
"Then I also hope, but for your sake, that you've brought that sister of yours with you."
Gideon cast a sideways glance down at Kit. "Yes, sir. Kathleen's right here with me."
Kathleen, she thought. Another one of her brother's strange little quirks. Whenever it was just the two of them, she was Kit, but as soon as her father was present... Kathleen—
"Let her in."
Mr. McElroy's order was direct and clear. Gideon immediately pushed the grand door inward and stepped aside so that Kit could enter. Before she did, she turned to look at her brother, her eyebrows slightly raised. He answered her with an almost imperceptible shake of his head.
She was on her own for this one.
End Note: Now we kind of get an idea of that this story is going to be about. The first two chapters were a prologue of sorts, showing Kit Harding as she is when her initial journey - the journey from Ireland to New York, the transformation of Kathleen McElroy to Kit Harding - is complete. However, we have to rewind about a year and a half to start her journey. So this chapter is the real beginning and everything happens from this point on will lead to the moment when Kit moves into the Greenwich Village Lodging House. Hope that makes sense :)
- stress, 02.26.12
Samain: Samhain/Gaelic Harvest Festival that takes place October 31-November 1
an Gorta Mór: The Great Hunger/The Great Irish Famine, 1845-1852