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Only an Irish Boy: Plot Summary

Only an Irish Boy, Chicago: M.A. Donohue & Co, 1909

Only an Irish Boy cover image is borrowed from the Dime Novels Collection of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at the University of Rochester          The first description of Andy Burke, the hero, presents him on the road; he is returning home from a farmhand position that he held. Although he is stout, strong, and happy, his clothing does not fit, and he is covered in dust. Along the road home he meets fop Godfrey Preston, who insults Andy's mother. Andy baits revenge by calling Godfrey a blackguard. The two begin to fight and Andy soundly thrashes his opponent. Godfrey runs home to complain to his father, Colonel Anthony Preston. Interestingly, the son's faults are not shared by the father; the narrator remarks, "though Godfrey was an only son, his father was sensible enough to be fully aware of his faults" (10). Instead, the narrator explains, Godfrey's egotism is the result of his mother, who was "vain, haughty, and proud of putting on airs" (10). The root of the mother and son's attitudes is a belief in nobility; they are both very un-Democratic and very un-American.
          Meanwhile, Andy arrives home to find his mother and sister nearly destitute. Although Mrs. Burke had been doing sewing work for Mrs. Preston, Godfrey has his mother discharge Mrs. Burke for her son's actions. Andy goes in search of a job, and meets with two maiden ladies "of a very uncertain age," Priscilla and Sophia Grant (34). Of the two, Priscilla is the voice; Sophia regularly chorusing Priscilla's comments with "just so." Priscilla asks Andy, "Are you a- Hibernian?" (44). Although he is uncertain what to say, he nonetheless gets a job to do all of the more difficult tasks around their house. His natural likeability soon endears Andy to the two sisters, who decide to send Andy to school.
          At school, Andy makes a friend, Charlie Fleming, son of the local doctor, a true gentleman. He also attends school with Godfrey, and the two often get into arguments, always because Godfrey tries to insult the Irish boy. Godfrey's attempts only earn him the dislike of his other schoolmates; Charlie remarking, "It strikes me, Godfrey, that you ought to have been born somewhere else than America. In this country, labor is considered honorable" (75). Eventually, the tension between Andy and Godfrey comes to blows. Andy comes upon Godfrey attacking a smaller poor boy, Alfred Parker. Andy defends him, and though Godfrey complains, his case is upheld by the teacher, Mr. Stone.
          Mrs. Preston demands a meeting with the teacher, at which she accuses Mr. Stone of not showing preference to her son, a charge to which he readily agrees. Their dialogue follows:

          "'Mr. Stone, I am surprised at your singular style of talking. You wish to do away with all social distinctions.'
          'I certainly do, madam...there must be social differences, I am aware. We cannot all be equally rich or honored, but whatever may be the world's rule, I mean to maintain strict impartiality in my schoolroom" (111).

          Mrs. Preston wants to dismiss him, but he was planning to leave anyway. Godfrey is so humiliated that he compels his mother to enroll him in a boarding school.
          Next, Andy endears himself to Godfrey's father. While the Colonel is on a coach ride to the next town on business, he is approached by a villain-in-disguise, "a certain black-whiskered individual" posing as a wealthy investor. This man secures a ride from back to Preston's town with Preston. The narrator comments that were the Colonel a shrewder judge of character, he would not have fallen as easily into this trap: "The eyes oftenest betray the real character of a man, where all other signs fail. But Colonel Preston was not a keen observer, nor was he skilled in physiognomy" (128). Along the way, the villain attempts to rob him, but Andy, out hunting, intervenes. He prevents the robbery and drives away the highwayman. The colonel rewards him with one hundred dollars. At home, Mrs. Preston and Godfrey think that the Colonel was the victim of a ploy in which both the highwayman and Andy were involved. They both grow to hate the Irish boy even more.
          Time passes; Colonel Preston takes ill with smallpox. Mrs. Preston is so frightened of infection that she leaves town, and takes a hotel room near Godfrey's boarding school, an action that makes the Colonel doubt the nature of her love. Mrs. Burke agrees to nurse the ill man, a kindness he does not forget. He buys her rented house and lets her live rent-free.
          Meanwhile, Andy goes to Boston to collect dividends for the Grants. While there, he is nearly made victim to the "drop game," gaining a wallet filled with paper in the process. He also encounters the black-whiskered villain, again in disguise. He attempts to rob Andy, but is tricked by the false wallet and is apprehended before he can take vengeance.
          Next, the Colonel dies unexpectedly. He leaves much to Mrs. Preston and Godfrey, but he also leaves five thousand dollars to Andy, five thousand dollars to the city for a library, and gives Mrs. Burke her house. Unfortunately, Mrs. Preston finds the will before it is disclosed and destroys it out of greed. She then demands back rent from Mrs. Burke, and threatens to evict the family.
          Further bad luck ensues; Sophia Grant becomes ill, and the sisters have to move; Andy is out of a job. Their eviction seems imminent.
          However, Dr. Townley reveals a secret letter from the Colonel, who entrusted it to him, to be opened six months after his death. It is a copy of the will, and an indication that he suspected Mrs. Preston's true nature. Faced with this, Mrs. Preston suffers the loss.
          In conclusion, Andy uses his money to buy a partnership in the local dry goods store. He does very well, and buys a new house for his mother. Mrs. Preston is taken in by a swindler, who marries her and spends all her money. Andy allows her to live in their old house and gives her a decent allowance. Godfrey falls into intemperance and wicked living, and is reportedly killed in a bar brawl in Sacramento.