L.C. catalog number: 57-10558 (c) Frank O’Connor 1957 THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK, PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF, INC. Copyright 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957 by FRANK O’CONNOR. Copyright 1957 by THE CURTIS PUBLISHING COMPANY. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed n a maazine or newspaper. Published simultaneously in Canada by McClelland & Stewart Ltd. Manufactured in the United states of America. Published September 23, 1957 Second printing December 1957 NOTE. Of the stories in this volume, the following appeared originally in The New Yorker: “A Bachelor’s Story,” “Daydreams,” “The Duke’s Children,” “Expectation of Life,” “Fish for Friday,” “Pity” (originally titled “Francis”), “The Man of the World,” “The Pariah,” “A Salesman’s Romance,” and “The Study of History.” “Orphans,” and “The Genius” (originally entitled “The Sissy”) appeared in Mademoiselle; “Ugly Duckling” (originally entitled “That Ryan Woman”) in The Saturday Evening Post; and “The Paragon” in Esquire. “Private Property” has not been published previously.



Some kids are sissies by nature but I was a sissy by conviction. Mother had told me about geniuses; I wanted to be one, and I could see for myself that fighting, as well as being sinful, was dangerous. The kids round the Barrack where I lived were always fighting. Mother said they were savages, that I needed proper friends, and that once I was old enough to go to school I would meet them.

My way, when someone wanted to fight and I could not get away, was to climb on the nearest wall and argue like hell in a shrill voice about Our Blessed Lord and good manners. This was a way of attracting attention, and it usually worked because the enemy, having stared incredulously at me for several minutes, wondering if he would have time to hammer my head on the pavement before someone came out to him, yelled something like . “blooming sissy” and went away in disgust. I didn’t like being called a sissy but I preferred it to fighting. I felt very like one of those poor mongrels who slunk through our neighbourhood and took to their heels when anyone came near them, and I always tried to make friends with them.

I toyed with games, and enjoyed kicking a ball gently before me along the pavement till I discovered that any boy who joined me grew violent and started to shoulder me out of the way. I preferred little girls because they didn’t fight so much, but otherwise I found them insipid and lacking in any solid basis of information. The only women I cared for were grown-ups, and my most intimate friend was an old washerwoman called Miss Cooney who had been in the lunatic asylum and was very religious. It was she who had told me all about dogs. She would run a mile after anyone she saw hurting an animal and even went to the police about them, but the police knew she was mad and paid no attention.

She was a sad-looking woman with grey hair, high cheekbones, and toothless gums. While she ironed, I would sit for hours in the steaming, damp kitchen, turning over the pages of her religious books. She was fond of me, too, and told me she was sure I would be a priest. I agreed that I might be a Bishop, but she didn’t seem to think so highly of Bishops. I told her there were so many other things I might be that I couldn’t make up my mind but she only smiled at this. Miss Cooney thought there was only one thing a genius could be and that was a priest.

On the whole, I thought an explorer was what I would be. Our house was in a square between two roads, one terraced above the other, and I could leave home, follow the upper road for a mile past the Barrack, turn left on any of the intervening roads and lanes, and return almost without leaving the pavement. It was astonishing what valuable information you could pick up on a trip like that. When I came home I wrote down my adventures in a book called The Voyages of Johnson Martin, with Many Maps and Illustrations, Irishtown University Press, 3s.6d. nett. I was also compiling The Irishtown University Song Book for Use in Schools and Institutions, by Johnson Martin, which had the words and music of my favourite songs. I could not read music yet but I copied it from anything that came handy, preferring staff to solfa because it looked better on the page. But I still wasn’t sure what I would be. All I knew was that I intended to be famous and have a statue put up to me near that of Father Matthew in Patrick Street. Father Matthew was called the Apostle of Temperance, but I didn’t think much of temperance. So far our town hadn’t a proper genius and I intended to supply the deficiency.

But my work continued to bring home to me the great gaps in my knowledge. Mother understood my difficulty and worried herself endlessly finding answers to my questions, but neither she nor Miss Cooney had a great store of the sort of information I needed, and Father was more a hindrance than a help. He was talkative enough about subjects that interested himself but they did not greatly interest me. “Ballybeg,” he would say brightly. “Market Town. Population 648. Nearest station, Rathkeale.” He was also forthcoming enough about other things, but later Mother would take me aside and explain that he was only joking again. This made me mad because I never knew when he was joking and when he wasn’t.

I can see now, of course, that he didn’t really like me. It was not the poor man’s fault. He had never expected to be the father of a genius and it filled him with forebodings. He looked round him at all his contemporaries who had normal, bloodthirsty, illiterate children, and shuddered at the thought that I would never be good for anything but being a genius. To give him his due, it wasn’t himself he worried about, but there had never been anything like it in the family before and he dreaded the shame of it. He would come in from the front door with his cap over his eyes and his hands in his trousers pockets and stare moodily at me while I sat at the kitchen table, surrounded by papers, producing fresh maps and illustrations for my book of voyages or copying the music of “The Minstrel Boy.”

“Why can’t you go out and play with the Horgans?” he would ask wheedlingly, trying to make it sound attractive.

“I don’t like the Horgans, Daddy,” I would reply politely.

“But what’s wrong with them?” he would ask testily. “They're fine, manly young fellows.”

“They’re always fighting, Daddy.”

“And what harm is fighting? Can’t you fight them back?”

“I don’t like fighting, Daddy, thank you,” I would say, still with perfect politeness.

“The dear knows, the child is right,” Mother would say, coming to my defence. “I don’t know what sort those children are.”

“Ah, you have him as bad as yourself,” Father would snort and stalk to the front door again, to scald his heart with thoughts of the nice natural son he might have had if only he hadn’t married the wrong woman. Granny had always said Mother was the wrong woman for him and now she was being proved right.

She was being proved so right that the poor man couldn’t keep his eyes off me, waiting for the insanity to break out. One of the things he didn’t like was my Opera House. The Opera House was a cardboard box I had mounted on two chairs in the dark hallway. It had a proscenium cut in it, and I had painted some backdrops of mountain and sea with wings that represented trees and rocks. The characters were pictures cut out, mounted and coloured and moved on bits of stick. It was lit with candles for which I had made coloured screens, greased so that they were transparent, and I made up operas from story-books and bits of songs. I was singing a passionate duet for two of the characters while twiddling the screens to produce the effect of moonlight when one of the screens caught fire and everything went up in a mass of flames. I screamed and Father came to stamp out the blaze, and he cursed me till even Mother lost her temper with him and told him he was worse than six children, after which he wouldn’t speak to her for a week.

Another time I was so impressed with a lame teacher I knew that I decided to have a lame leg myself, and there was hell in the home for days because Mother had no difficulty at all in seeing that my foot was already out of shape while Father only looked at it and sniffed contemptuously. I was furious with him, and Mother decided he wasn’t much better than a monster. They quarrelled for days over that until it became quite an embarrassment to me because, though I was bored stiff with limping, I felt I should be letting her down by getting better. When I went down the Square, lurching from side to side, Father stood at the gate, looking after me with a malicious knowing smile, and when I had discarded my limp, the way he mocked Mother was positively disgusting.


As I say, they squabbled endlessly about what I should be told. Father was for telling me nothing.

“But, Mick,” Mother would say earnestly, “the child must learn.”

“He'll learn soon enough when he goes to school,” he snarled. “Why do you be always at him, putting ideas into his head? Isn’t he bad enough? I’d sooner the boy would grow up a bit natural.”

But either Mother didn’t like children to be natural or she thought I was natural enough as I was. Women, of course, don’t object to geniuses half as much as men do. I suppose they find them a relief.

Now, one of the things I wanted badly to know was where babies came from but this was something that no one seemed to be able to explain to me. When I asked Mother she got upset and talked about birds and flowers, and I decided that if she had ever known she must have forgotten it and was ashamed to say so. Miss Cooney when I asked her only smiled wistfully and said: “You'll know all about it soon enough, child.”

“But, Miss Cooney,” I said with great dignity, “I have to know now. It’s for my work, you see.”

“Keep your innocence while you can, child,” she said in the same tone. “Soon enough the world will rob you of it, and once ’tis gone ’tis gone forever.

”But whatever the world wanted to rob me of, it was welcome to it from my point of view, if only I could get a few facts to work on. I appealed to Father and he told me that babies were dropped out of aeroplanes and if you caught one you could keep it. “By parachute?” I asked, but he only looked pained and said: “Oh, no, you don’t want to begin by spoiling them.” Afterwards, Mother took me aside again and explained that he was only joking. I went quite dotty with rage and told her that one of these days he would go too far with his jokes.

All the same, it was a great worry to Mother. It wasn’t every mother who had a genius for a son, and she dreaded that she might be wronging me. She suggested timidly to Father that he should tell me something about it, and he danced with rage. I heard them because I was supposed to be playing with the Opera House upstairs at the time. He said she was going out of her mind, and that she was driving me out of my mind as well. She was very upset because she had considerable respect for his judgement.

At the same time when it was a matter of duty she could be very, very obstinate. It was a heavy responsibility, and she disliked it intensely—a deeply pious woman who never mentioned the subject at all to anybody if she could avoid it—but it had to be done. She took an awful long time over it—it was a summer day, and we were sitting on the bank of a stream in the Glen—but at last I managed to detach the fact that mummies had an engine in their tummies and daddies had a starting handle that made it work, and once it started it went on until it made a baby. That certainly explained an awful lot I had not understood up to this—for instance, why fathers were necessary and why Mother had buffers on her chest while Father had none. It made her almost as interesting as a locomotive, and for days I went round deploring my own rotten luck that I wasn’t a girl and couldn’t have an engine and buffers instead of a measly old starting handle like Father.

Soon afterwards I went to school and disliked it intensely. I was too small to be moved up to the big boys, and the other “infants” were still at the stage of spelling “cat” and “dog.” I tried to tell the old teacher about my work, but she only smiled and said: “Hush, Larry!” I hated being told to hush. Father was always saying it to me.

One day I was standing at the playground gate, feeling very lonely and dissatisfied, when a tall girl from the Senior Girls’ School spoke to me. She had a plump, dark face and black pigtails.

“What’s your name, little boy?” she asked.

I told her.

“Is this your first time at school?” she asked.


“And do you like it?”

“No, I hate it,” I replied gravely. “The children can’t spell and the old woman talks too much.”

Then I talked myself, for a change, and she listened attentively while I told her about myself, my voyages, my books, and the time of the trains from all the city stations. As she seemed so interested I told her I would meet her after school and tell her some more.

I was as good as my word. When I had eaten my lunch,instead of going on further voyages I went back to the Girls’ School and waited for her to come out. She seemed pleased to see me because she took my hand and brought me home with her. She lived up Gardiner’s Hill, a steep, demure suburban road with trees that overhung the walls at either side. She lived in a small house on top of the hill and was one of a family of three girls. Her little brother, John Joe, had been killed the previous year by a car. “Look at what I brought home with me!” she said when we went into the kitchen, and her mother, a tall, thin woman, made a great fuss of me and wanted me to have my dinner with Una. That was the girl’s name. I didn’t take anything but while she ate I sat by the range and told her mother about myself. She seemed to like it as much as Una, and when dinner was over Una took me out in the fields behind the house for a walk.

When I went home at teatime, Mother was delighted.

“Ah,” she said, “I knew you wouldn’t be long making nice friends at school. It’s about time for you, the dear knows.”

I felt much the same about it, and every fine day at three I waited for Una outside the school. When it rained and Mother would not let me out I was miserable.

One day while I was waiting for her there were two senior girls outside the gate.

“Your girl isn’t out yet, Larry,” said one with a giggle.

“And do you mean to tell me Larry has a girl?” the other asked with a shocked air.

“Oh, yes,” said the first. “Una Dwyer is Larry’s girl. He goes with Una, don’t you, Larry?”

I replied politely that I did, but in fact I was seriously alarmed. I had not realized that Una would be considered my girl. It had never happened to me before, and I had not understood that my waiting for her would be regarded in such a grave light. Now, I think the girls were probably right anyhow, for that is always the way it has been with me. A woman has only to shut up and let me talk long enough for me to fall head and ears in love with her. But then I did not recognize the symptoms. All I knew was that going with somebody meant you intended to marry them. I had always planned on marrying Mother; now it seemed as if I was expected to marry someone else, and I wasn’t sure if I should like it or if, like football, it would prove to be one of those games that two people could not play without pushing.

A couple of weeks later I went to a party at Una’s house. By this time it was almost as much mine as theirs. All the girls liked me and Mrs. Dwyer talked to me by the hour. I saw nothing unusual about this except a proper appreciation of geniuses. Una had warned me that I should be expected to sing, so I was ready for the occasion. I sang the Gregorian Credo, and some of the little girls laughed but Mrs. Dwyer only looked at me fondly.

“I suppose you'll be a priest when you grow up, Larry?” she asked.

“No, Mrs. Dwyer,” I replied firmly. “As a matter of fact, I intend to be a composer. Priests can’t marry, you see, and I want to get married.”

That seemed to surprise her quite a bit. I was quite prepared to continue discussing my plans for the future, but all the children talked together. I was used to planning discussions so that they went on for a long time, but I found that whenever I began one in the Dwyers’, it was immediately interrupted so that I found it hard to concentrate. Besides, all the children shouted, and Mrs. Dwyer, for all her gentleness, shouted with them and at them. At first, I was somewhat alarmed, but I soon saw that they meant no particular harm, and when the party ended I was jumping up and down on the sofa, shrieking louder than anyone, while Una, in hysterics of giggling, encouraged me. She seemed to think I was the funniest thing ever.

It was a moonlit November night, and lights were burning in the little cottages along the road when Una brought me home. On the road outside she stopped uncertainly and said: “This is where little John Joe was killed.”

There was nothing remarkable about the spot, and I saw no chance of acquiring any useful information.

“Was it a Ford or a Morris?” I asked, more out of politeness than anything else.

“I don’t know,” she replied with smouldering anger. “It was Donegans’ old car. They can never look where they’re going, the old shows!”

“Our Lord probably wanted him,” I said perfunctorily.

“I dare say He did,” Una replied, though she showed no particular conviction. “That old fool Donegan—I could kill him whenever I think of it.”

“You should get your mother to make you another,” I suggested helpfully.

“Make me a what?” Una exclaimed in consternation.

“Make you another brother,” I repeated earnestly. “It’s quite easy, really. She has an engine in her tummy, and all your daddy has to do is to start it with his starting handle.”

“Cripes!” Una said and clapped her hand over her mouth in an explosion of giggles. “Imagine me telling her that!”

“But it’s true, Una,” I said obstinately. “It only takes nine months. She could make you another little brother by next summer.”

“Oh, Jay!” exclaimed Una in another fit of giggles. “Who told you all that?”

“Mummy did. Didn’t you mother tell you?”

“Oh, she says you buy them from Nurse Daly,” said Una. and began to giggle again.

“I wouldn’t really believe that,” I said with as much dignity as I could muster.

But the truth was I felt I had made a fool of myself again. I realized now that I had never been convinced by Mother’s explanation. It was too simple. If there was anything that woman could get wrong she did so without fail. And it upset me, because for the first time I found myself wanting to make a really good impression. The Dwyers had managed to convince me that, whatever else I wanted to be, I did not want to be a priest. I didn’t even want to be an explorer, a career which would take me away for long periods from my wife and family. I was prepared to be a composer and nothing but a composer.

That night in bed I sounded Mother on the subject of marriage. I tried to be tactful because it had always been agreed between us that I should marry her and I did not wish her to see that my feelings had changed.

“Mummy,” I asked, “if a gentleman asks a lady to marry him, what does he say?”

“Oh,” she replied shortly, “some of them say a lot. They say more than they mean.”

She was so irritable that I guessed she had divined my secret and I felt really sorry for her.

“If a gentleman said ‘Excuse me, will you marry me?’ would that be all right?” I persisted.

“Ah, well, he’d have to tell her first that he was fond of her,” said Mother, who, no matter what she felt, could never bring herself to deceive me on any major issue.

But about the other matter I saw that it was hopeless to ask her any more. For days I made the most pertinacious inquiries at school and received some startling information. One boy had actually come floating down on a snowflake, wearing a bright blue dress, but, to his chagrin and mine, the dress had been given away to a poor child in the North Main Street. I grieved long and deeply over this wanton destruction of evidence. The balance of opinion favoured Mrs. Dwyer’s solution, but of the theory of engines and starting handles no one in the school had ever heard. That theory might have been all right when Mother was a girl but it was now definitely out of fashion.

And because of it I had been exposed to ridicule before the family whose good opinion I valued most! It was hard enough to keep up my dignity with a girl who was doing algebra while I hadn’t got beyond long division without falling into childish errors that made her laugh. That is another thing I still cannot stand, being made fun of by women. Once they begin they never stop.

Once when we were going up Gardiner’s Hill together after school she stopped to look at a baby in a pram. The baby grinned at her and she gave him her finger to suck. He waved his fists and sucked like mad and she went off into giggles again.

“I suppose that was another engine?” she said.

Four times at least she mentioned my silliness, twice in front of other girls, and each time, though I pretended to ignore it, I was pierced to the heart. It made me determined not to be exposed again. Once Mother asked Una and her younger sister, Joan, to tea and all the time I was in an agony of self-consciousness, dreading what she would say next. I felt that a woman who had said such things about babies was capable of anything. Then the talk turned on the death of little John Joe, and it all flowed back into my mind on a wave of mortification. I made two efforts to change the conversation, but Mother returned to it. She was full of pity for the Dwyers, full of sympathy for the little boy, and had almost reduced herself to tears. Finally, I got up and ordered Una and Joan to play with me. Then Mother got angry.

“For goodness’ sake, Larry, let the children finish their tea!” she snapped.

“It’s all right, Mrs. Delaney,” Una said good-naturedly. “I’ll go with him.”

“Nonsense, Una!” Mother said sharply. “Finish your tea and go on with what you were saying. It’s a wonder to me your poor mother didn’t go out of her mind. How can they let people like that drive cars?”

At this I set up a loud wail. At any moment now, I felt, she was going to get on to babies and advise Una about what her mother ought to do.

“Will you behave yourself, Larry!” Mother said in a quivering voice. “Or what’s come over you in the past few weeks? You used to have such nice manners, and now look at you! A little corner boy! I’m ashamed of you!”

How could she know what had come over me? How could she realize that I was imagining the family circle in the Dwyers’ house and Una, between fits of laughter, describing my old-fashioned mother who still talked about babies coming out of people’s stomachs? It must have been real love, for I have never known true love in which I wasn’t ashamed of Mother.

And she knew it and was hurt. I still enjoyed going home with Una in the afternoons and, while she ate her dinner, I sat at the piano and pretended to play my own compositions, but whenever she called at our house for me I grabbed her by the hand and tried to drag her away so that she and Mother shouldn’t start talking.

“Ah, I’m disgusted with you,” Mother said one day. “One would think you were ashamed of me in front of that little girl. I'll engage she doesn’t treat her mother like that.”

Then one day I was waiting for Una at the school gate as usual. Another boy was waiting there as well—one of the seniors. When he heard the screams of the school breaking up he strolled away and stationed himself at the foot of the hill by the crossroads. Then Una herself came rushing out in her wide-brimmed felt hat, swinging her satchel, and approached me with a conspiratorial air.

“Oh, Larry, guess what’s happened!” she whispered. “I can’t bring you home with me today. I'll come down and see you during the week, though. Will that do?”

“Yes, thank you,” I said in a dead cold voice. Even at the most tragic moment of my life I could be nothing but polite. I watched her scamper down the hill to where the big boy was waiting. He looked over his shoulder with a grin, and then the two of them went off together.

Instead of following them, I went back up the hill alone and stood leaning over the quarry wall, looking at the roadway and the valley of the city beneath me. I knew this was the end. I was too young to marry Una. I didn’t know where babies came from and I didn’t understand algebra. The fellow she had gone home with probably knew everything about both. I was full of gloom and revengeful thoughts. I, who had considered it sinful and dangerous to fight, was now regretting that I hadn’t gone after him to batter his teeth in and jump on his face. It wouldn’t even have mattered to me that I was too young and weak and that he would have done all the battering. I saw that love was a game that two people couldn’t play at without pushing, just like football.

I went home and without saying a word took out the work I had been neglecting so long. That, too, seemed to have lost its appeal. Moodily, I ruled five lines and began to trace the difficult sign of the treble clef.

“Didn’t you see Una, Larry?” Mother asked in surprise, looking up from her sewing.

“No, mummy,” I said, too full for speech.

“Wisha, ‘twasn’t a falling-out ye had?” she asked in dismay, coming towards me. I put my head on my hands and sobbed. “Wisha, never mind, childeen!” she murmured, running her hand through my hair. “She was a bit old for you. You reminded her of her little brother that was killed, of course—that was why. You'll soon make new friends, take my word for it.”

But I did not believe her. That evening there was no comfort for me. My great work meant nothing to me and I knew it was all I would ever have. For all the difference it made, I might as well become a priest. I felt it was a poor, sad, lonesome thing being nothing but a genius.


The discovery of where babies came from filled my life with excitement and interest. Not in the way it’s generally supposed to, of course. Oh, no! I never seem to have done anything like a natural child in a standard textbook. I merely discovered the fascination of history. Up to this, I had lived in a country of my own that had no history, and accepted my parents’ marriage as an event ordained from the creation; now, when I considered it in this new, scientific way, I began to see it merely as one of the turning-points of history, one of those apparently trivial events that are little more than accidents but have the effect of changing the destiny of humanity. I had not heard of Pascal, but I would have approved his remark about what would have happened if Cleopatra’s nose had been a bit longer.

It immediately changed my view of my parents. Up to this, they had been principles, not characters, like a chain of mountains guarding a green horizon. Suddenly a little shaft of light, emerging from behind a cloud, struck them, and the whole mass broke up into peaks, valleys, and foothills; you could even see whitewashed farmhouses and fields where people worked in the evening light, a whole world of interior perspective. Mother’s past was the richer subject for study. It was extraordinary the variety of people and settings that woman had had in her background. She had been an orphan, a parlourmaid, a companion, a traveller; and had been proposed to by a plasterer’s apprentice, a French chef who had taught her to make superb coffee, and a rich and elderly shopkeeper in Sunday’s Well. Because I liked to feel myself different, I thought a great deal about the chef and the advantages of being a Frenchman, but the shopkeeper was an even more vivid figure in my imagination because he had married someone else and died soon after—of disappointment, I had no doubt—leaving a large fortune. The fortune was to me what Cleopatra’s nose was to Pascal: the ultimate proof that things might have been different.

“How much was Mr. Riordan’s fortune, Mummy?” I asked thoughtfully.

“Ah, they said he left eleven thousand,” Mother replied doubtfully, “but you couldn’t believe everything people say.

That was exactly what I could do. I was not prepared to minimize a fortune that I might so easily have inherited.

“And weren’t you ever sorry for poor Mr. Riordan?” I asked severely.

“Ah, why would I be sorry, child?” she asked with a shrug. “Sure, what use would money be where there was no liking?”

That, of course, was not what I meant at all. My heart was full of pity for poor Mr. Riordan who had tried to be my father; but, even on the low level at which Mother discussed it, money would have been of great use to me. I was not so fond of Father as to think he was worth eleven thousand pounds, a hard sum to visualize but more than twenty-seven times greater than the largest salary I had ever heard of—that of a Member of Parliament. One of the discoveries I was making at the time was that Mother was not only rather hard-hearted but very impractical as well.

But Father was the real surprise. He was a brooding, worried man who seemed to have no proper appreciation of me, and was always wanting me to go out and play or go upstairs and read, but the historical approach changed him like a character in a fairy-tale. “Now let’s talk about the ladies Daddy nearly married,” I would say; and he would stop whatever he was doing and give a great guffaw. “Oh, ho, ho!” he would say, slapping his knee and looking slyly at Mother, “you could write a book about them.” Even his face changed at such moments. He would look young and extraordinarily mischievous. Mother, on the other hand, would grow black.

“You could,” she would say, looking into the fire. “Daisies!”

“‘The handsomest man that walks Cork!’” Father would quote with a wink at me. “That’s what one of them called me.”

“Yes,” Mother would say, scowling. “May Cadogan!”

“The very girl!” Father would cry in astonishment. “How did I forget her name? A beautiful girl! ’Pon my word, a most remarkable girl! And still is, I hear.”

“She should be,” Mother would say in disgust. “With six of them!”

“Oh, now, she’d be the one that could look after them! A fine head that girl had.”

“She had. I suppose she ties them to a lamp-post while she goes in to drink and gossip.”

That was one of the peculiar things about history. Father and Mother both loved to talk about it but in different ways. She would only talk about it when we were together somewhere, in the Park or down the Glen, and even then it was very hard to make her stick to the facts, because her whole face would light up and she would begin to talk about donkey-carriages or concerts in the kitchen, or oillamps, and though nowadays I would probably value it for atmosphere, in those days it sometimes drove me mad with impatience. Father, on the other hand, never minded talking about it in front of her, and it made her angry— particularly when he mentioned May Cadogan. He knew this perfectly well and he would wink at me and make me laugh outright, though I had no idea of why I laughed, and, anyway, my sympathy was all with her.

“But, Daddy,” I would say, presuming on his high spirits, “if you liked Miss Cadogan so much why didn’t you marry her?”

At this, to my great delight, he would let on to be filled with doubt and distress. He would put his hands in his trousers pockets and stride to the door leading into the hallway.

“That was a delicate matter,” he would say, without looking at me. “You see, I had your poor mother to think of.”

“I was a great trouble to you,” Mother would say, in a blaze.

“Poor May said it to me herself,” he would go on as though he had not heard her, “and the tears pouring down her cheeks. ‘Mick,’ she said, ‘that girl with the brown hair will bring me to an untimely grave.’”

“She could talk of hair!” Mother would hiss. “With her carroty mop!”

“Never did I suffer the way I suffered then, between the two of them,” Father would say with deep emotion as he returned to his chair by the window.

“Oh, ’tis a pity about ye!” Mother would cry in an exasperated tone and suddenly get up and go into the front room with her book to escape his teasing. Every word that man said she took literally. Father would give a great guffaw of delight, his hands on his knees and his eyes on the ceiling, and wink at me again. I would laugh with him, of course, and then grow wretched because I hated Mother’s sitting alone in the front room. I would go in and find her in her wicker chair by the window in the dusk, the book open on her knee, looking out at the Square. She would always have regained her composure when she spoke to me, but I would have an uncanny feeling of unrest in her and stroke her and talk to her soothingly as if we had changed places and I were the adult and she the child.

But if I was excited by what history meant to them, I was even more excited by what it meant to me. My potentialities were double theirs. Through Mother I might have been a French boy called Laurence Armady or a rich boy from Sunday’s Well called Laurence Riordan. Through Father I might, while still remaining a Delaney, have been one of the six children of the mysterious and beautiful Miss Cadogan. I was fascinated by the problem of who I would have been if I hadn’t been me, and, even more, by the problem of whether or not I would have known that there was anything wrong with the arrangement. Naturally, I tended to regard Laurence Delaney as the person I was intended to be, and so I could not help wondering whether as Laurence Riordan I would not have been aware of Laurence Delaney as a real gap in my make-up.

I remember that one afternoon after school I walked by myself all the way up to Sunday’s Well, which I now regarded as something like a second home. I stood for a while at the garden gate of the house where Mother had been working when she was proposed to by Mr. Riordan, and then went and studied the shop itself. It had clearly seen better days, and the cartons and advertisements in the window were dusty and sagging. It wasn’t like one of the big stores in Patrick Street, but at the same time, in size and fittings, it was well above the level of a village shop. I regretted that Mr. Riordan was dead because I would have liked to see him for myself instead of relying on Mother’s impressions, which seemed to me to be biassed. Since he had, more or less, died of grief on Mother’s account, I conceived of him as a really nice man; lent him the countenance and manner of an old gentleman who always spoke to me when he met me on the road; and felt I could have become really attached to him as a father. I could imagine it all: Mother reading in the parlour while she waited for me to come home up Sunday’s Well in a school-cap and blazer, like the boys from the Grammar School, and with an expensive leather satchel instead of the old cloth school-bag I carried over my shoulder. I could see myself walking slowly and with a certain distinction, lingering at gateways and looking down at the river; and later I would go out to tea in one of the big houses with long gardens sloping to the water, and maybe row a boat on the river along with a girl in a pink frock. I wondered only whether I would have any awareness of the National School boy with the cloth school-bag who jammed his head between the bars of a gate and thought of me. It was a queer, lonesome feeling that all but reduced me to tears.

But the place that had the greatest attraction of all for me was the Douglas Road, where Father’s friend Miss Cadogan lived, only now she wasn’t Miss Cadogan but Mrs. O’Brien. Naturally, nobody called Mrs. O’Brien could be as attractive to the imagination as a French chef or an elderly shopkeeper with eleven thousand pounds, but she had a physical reality that the other pair lacked. As I went regularly to the library at Parnell Bridge, I frequently found myself wandering up the road in the direction of Douglas and always stopped in front of the long row of houses where she lived. There were high steps up to them, and in the evening the sunlight fell brightly on the house-fronts till they looked like a screen. One evening as I watched a gang of boys playing ball in the street outside, curiosity overcame me. I spoke to one of them. Having been always a child of solemn and unnatural politeness, I probably scared the wits out of him.

“I wonder if you could tell me which house Mrs. O’Brien lives in, please?” I asked.

“Hi, Gussie!” he yelled to another boy. “This fellow wants to know where your old one lives.”

This was more than I had bargained for. Then a thin, good-looking boy of about my own age detached himself from the group and came up to me with his fists clenched. I was feeling distinctly panicky, but all the same I studied him closely. After all, he was the boy I might have been.

“What do you want to know for?” he asked suspiciously.

Again, this was something I had not anticipated.

“My father was a great friend of your mother,” I explained carefully, but, so far as he was concerned, I might as well have been talking a foreign language. It was clear that Gussie O’Brien had no sense of history.

“What’s that?” he asked incredulously.

At this point we were interrupted by a woman I had noticed earlier, talking to another over the railing between the two steep gardens. She was small and untidy looking and occasionally rocked the pram in an absent-minded way as though she only remembered it at intervals.

“What is it, Gussie?” she cried, raising herself on tiptoe to see us better.

“I don’t really want to disturb your mother, thank you,” I said, in something like hysterics, but Gussie anticipated me, actually pointing me out to her in a manner I had been brought up to regard as rude.

“This fellow wants you,” he bawled.

“I don’t really,” I murmured, feeling that now I was in for it. She skipped down the high flight of steps to the gate with a laughing, puzzled air, her eyes in slits and her right hand arranging her hair at the back. It was not carroty as Mother described it, though it had red lights when the sun caught it.

“What is it, little boy?” she asked coaxingly, bending forward.

“I didn’t really want anything, thank you,” I said in terror. “It was just that my daddy said you lived up here, and, as I was changing my book at the library, I thought I’d come up and inquire. You can see,” I added, showing her the book as proof, “that I’ve only just been to the library.”

“But who is your daddy, little boy?” she asked, her grey eyes still in long, laughing slits. “What’s your name?”

“My name is Delaney,” I said. “Larry Delaney.”

“Not Mike Delaney’s boy?” she exclaimed wonderingly. “Well, for God’s sake! Sure, I should have known it from that big head of yours.” She passed her hand down the back of my head and laughed. “If you’d only get your hair cut I wouldn’t be long recognizing you. You wouldn’t think I’d know the feel of your old fellow’s head, would you?” she added roguishly.

“No, Mrs. O’Brien,” I replied meekly.

“Why, then indeed I do, and more along with it,” she added in the same saucy tone, though the meaning of what she said was not clear to me. “Ah, come in and give us a good look at you! That’s my eldest, Gussie, you were talking to,” she added, taking my hand. Gussie trailed behind us for a purpose I only recognized later.

“Ma-a-a-a, who’s dat fella with you?” yelled a fat little girl who had been playing hopscotch on the pavement.

“That’s Larry Delaney,” her mother sang over her shoulder. I don’t know what it was about that woman but there was something about her high spirits that made her more like a regiment than a woman. You felt that everyone should fall into step behind her. “Mick Delaney’s son from Barrackton. I nearly married his old fellow once. Did he ever tell you that, Larry?” she added slyly. She made sudden swift transitions from brilliance to intimacy that I found attractive.

“Yes, Mrs. O’Brien, he did,” I replied, trying to sound as roguish as she, and she went off into a delighted laugh, tossing her red head.

“Ah, look at that now! How well the old divil didn’t forget me! You can tell him I didn’t forget him either. And if I married him, I’d be your mother now. Wouldn’t that be a queer old three and fourpence? How would you like me for a mother, Larry?”

“Very much, thank you,’ I said complacently.

“Ah, go on with you, you would not,” she exclaimed, but she was pleased all the same. She struck me as the sort of woman it would be easy enough to please. “Your old fellow always said it: your mother was a most superior woman, and you’re a most superior child. Ah, and I’m not too bad myself either,” she added with a laugh and a shrug, wrinkling up her merry little face.

In the kitchen she cut me a slice of bread, smothered it with jam, and gave me a big mug of milk. “Will you have some, Gussie?” she asked in a sharp voice as if she knew only too well what the answer would be. “Aideen,” she said to the horrible little girl who had followed us in, “aren’t you fat and ugly enough without making a pig of yourself? Murder the Loaf we call her,” she added smilingly to me. “You’re a polite little boy, Larry, but damn the politeness you’d have if you had to deal with them. Is the book for your mother?”

“Oh, no, Mrs. O’Brien,” I replied. “It’s my own.”

“You mean you can read a big book like that?” she asked incredulously, taking it from my hands and measuring the length of it with a puzzled air.

“Oh, yes, I can.”

“I don’t believe you,” she said mockingly. “Go on and prove it!”

There was nothing I asked better than to prove it. I felt that as a performer I had never got my due, so I stood in the middle of the kitchen, cleared my throat, and began with great feeling to enunciate one of those horribly involved opening paragraphs you found in children’s books of the time. “On a fine evening in Spring, as the setting sun was beginning to gild the blue peaks with its lambent rays, a rider, recognizable as a student by certain niceties of attire, was slowly, and perhaps regretfully making his way ...” It was the sort of opening sentence I loved.

“I declare to God!” Mrs. O’Brien interrupted in astonishment. “And that fellow there is one age with you, and he can’t spell house. How well you wouldn’t be down at the library, you caubogue, you! ... That’s enough now, Larry,” she added hastily as I made ready to entertain them further.

“Who wants to read that blooming old stuff?” Gussie said contemptuously.

Later, he took me upstairs to show me his air rifle and model aeroplanes. Every detail of the room is still clear to me: the view into the back garden with its jungle of wild plants where Gussie had pitched his tent (a bad site for a tent as I patiently explained to him, owing to the danger from wild beasts) ; the three cots still unmade; the scribbles on the walls; and Mrs. O’Brien’s voice from the kitchen telling Aideen to see what was wrong with the baby, who was screaming his head off from the pram outside the front door. Gussie, in particular, fascinated me. He was spoiled, clever, casual; good-looking, with his mother’s small clean features; gay and calculating. I saw that when I left and his mother gave me a sixpence. Naturally I refused it politely, but she thrust it into my trousers pocket, and Gussie dragged at her skirt, noisily demanding something for himself.

“If you give him a tanner you ought to give me a tanner,” he yelled.

“I’ll tan you,” she said laughingly.

“Well, give up a lop anyway,” he begged, and she did give him a penny to take his face off her, as she said herself, and after that he followed me down the street and suggested we should go to the shop and buy sweets. I was simple-minded, but I wasn’t an out-and-out fool, and I knew that if I went to a sweet-shop with Gussie I should end up with no sixpence and very few sweets. So I told him I could not buy sweets without Mother’s permission, at which he gave me up altogether as a sissy or worse.

It had been an exhausting afternoon but a very instructive one. In the twilight I went back slowly over the bridges, a little regretful for that fast-moving, colourful household, but with a new appreciation of my own home. When I went in the lamp was lit over the fireplace and Father was at his tea.

“What kept you, child?” Mother asked with an anxious air, and suddenly I felt slightly guilty, and I played it as I usually did whenever I was at fault—in a loud, demonstrative, grown-up way. I stood in the middle of the kitchen with my cap in my hand and pointed it first at one, then at the other.

“You wouldn’t believe who I met!” I said dramatically.

“Wisha, who, child?” Mother asked.

“Miss Cadogan,” I said, placing my cap squarely on a chair, and turning on them both again. “Miss May Cadogan. Mrs. O’Brien as she is now.”

“Mrs. O’Brien?” Father exclaimed, putting down his cup. “But where did you meet Mrs. O’Brien?”

“I said you wouldn’t believe it. It was near the library. I was talking to some fellows, and what do you think but one of them was Gussie O’Brien, Mrs. O’Brien’s son. And he took me home with him, and his mother gave me bread and jam, and she gave me this.” I produced the sixpence with a real flourish.

“Well, I’m blowed!” Father gasped, and first he looked at me, and then he looked at Mother and burst into a loud guffaw.

“And she said to tell you she remembers you too, and that she sent her love.”

“Oh, by the jumping bell of Athlone!” Father crowed and clapped his hands on his knees. I could see he believed the story I had told and was delighted with it, and I could see, too, that Mother did not believe it and that she was not in the least delighted. That, of course, was the trouble with Mother. Though she would do anything to help me with an intellectual problem, she never seemed to understand the need for experiment. She never opened her mouth while Father cross-questioned me, shaking his head in wonder and storing it up to tell the men in the factory. What pleased him most was Mrs. O’Brien’s remembering the shape of his head, and later, while Mother was out of the kitchen, I caught him looking in the mirror and stroking the back of his head.

But I knew too that for the first time I had managed to produce in Mother the unrest that Father could produce, and I felt wretched and guilty and didn’t know why. This was an aspect of history I only studied later.

That night I was really able to indulge my passion. At last I had the material to work with. I saw myself as Gussie O’Brien, standing in the bedroom, looking down at my tent in the garden, and Aideen as my sister, and Mrs. O’Brien as my mother, and, like Pascal, I re-created history. I remembered Mrs. O’Brien’s laughter, her scolding, and the way she stroked my head. I knew she was kind—casually kind—and hot-tempered, and recognized that in dealing with her I must somehow be a different sort of person. Being good at reading would never satisfy her. She would almost compel you to be as Gussie was: flattering, impertinent, and exacting. Though I couldn’t have expressed it in those terms, she was the sort of woman who would compel you to flirt with her.

Then, when I had had enough, I deliberately soothed myself as I did whenever I had scared myself by pretending that there was a burglar in the house or a wild animal trying to get in the attic window. I just crossed my hands on my chest, looked up at the window, and said to myself: “It is not like that. I am not Gussie O’Brien. I am Larry Delaney, and my mother is Mary Delaney, and we live in Number 8, Wellington Square. Tomorrow I’ll go to school at the Cross, and first there will be prayers, and then arithmetic, and after that composition.”

For the first time the charm did not work. I had ceased to be Gussie, all right, but somehow I had not become myself again, not any self that I knew. It was as though my own identity was a sort of sack I had to live in, and I had deliberately worked my way out of it, and now I couldn’t get back again because I had grown too big for it. I practised every trick I knew to reassure myself. I tried to play a counting game; then I prayed, but even the prayer seemed different, as though it didn’t belong to me at all. I was away in the middle of empty space, divorced from mother and home and everything permanent and familiar. Suddenly I found myself sobbing. The door opened and Mother came in in her nightdress, shivering, her hair over her face.

“You’re not sleeping, child,” she said in a wan and complaining voice.

I snivelled, and she put her hand on my forehead.

“You’re hot,” she said. “What ails you?”

I could not tell her of the nightmare in which I was lost. Instead, I took her hand, and gradually the terror retreated, and I became myself again, shrank into my little skin of identity, and left infinity and all its anguish behind.

“Mummy,” I said, “I promise I never wanted anyone but you.”


When I was a kid there were no such things as holidays for me and my likes, and I have no feeling of grievance about it because, in the way of kids, I simply invented them, which was much more satisfactory. One year, my summer holiday was a couple of nights I spent at the house of a friend called Jimmy Leary, who lived at the other side of the road from us. His parents sometimes went away for a couple of days to visit a sick relative in Bantry, and he was given permission to have a friend in to keep him company. I took my holiday with the greatest seriousness, insisted on the loan of Father’s old travelling bag and dragged it myself down our lane past the neighbours standing at their doors.

“Are you off somewhere, Larry?” asked one.

“Yes, Mrs. Rooney,” I said with great pride. “Off for my holidays to the Learys’.”

“Wisha, aren’t you very lucky?” she said with amusement.

“Lucky” seemed an absurd description of my good fortune. The Learys’ house was a big one with a high flight of steps up to the front door, which was always kept shut. They had a piano in the front room, a pair of binoculars on a table near the window, and a toilet on the stairs that seemed to me to be the last word in elegance and immodesty. We brought the binoculars up to the bedroom with us. From the window you could see the whole road up and down, from the quarry at its foot with the tiny houses perched on top of it to the open fields at the other end, where the last gas lamp rose against the sky. Each morning I was up with the first light, leaning out the window in my nightshirt and watching through the glasses all the mysterious figures you never saw from our lane: policemen, railwaymen, and farmers on their way to market.

I admired Jimmy almost as much as I admired his house, and for much the same reasons. He was a year older than I, was well-mannered and well-dressed, and would not associate with most of the kids on the road at all. He had a way when any of them joined us of resting against a wall with his hands in his trousers pockets and listening to them with a sort of well-bred smile, a knowing smile, that seemed to me the height of elegance. And it was not that he was a softy, because he was an excellent boxer and wrestler and could easily have held his own with them any time, but he did not wish to. He was superior to them. He was—there is only one word that still describes it for me—sophisticated.

I attributed his sophistication to the piano, the binoculars, and the indoor john, and felt that if only I had the same advantages I could have been sophisticated, too. I knew I wasn’t, because I was always being deceived by the world of appearances. I would take a sudden violent liking to some boy, and when I went to his house my admiration would spread to his parents and sisters, and I would think how wonderful it must be to have such a home; but when I told Jimmy he would smile in that knowing way of his and say quietly: “I believe they had the bailiffs in a few weeks ago,” and, even though I didn’t know what bailiffs were, bang would go the whole world of appearances, and I would realize that once again I had been deceived.

It was the same with fellows and girls. Seeing some bigger chap we knew walking out with a girl for the first time, Jimmy would say casually: “He’d better mind himself: that one is dynamite.” And, even though I knew as little of girls who were dynamite as I did of bailiffs, his tone would be sufficient to indicate that I had been taken in by sweet voices and broad-brimmed hats, gaslight and evening smells from gardens.

Forty years later I can still measure the extent of my obsession, for, though my own handwriting is almost illegible, I sometimes find myself scribbling idly on a pad in a small, stiff, perfectly legible hand that I recognize with amusement as a reasonably good forgery of Jimmy’s. My admiration still lies there somewhere, a fossil in my memory, but Jimmy’s knowing smile is something I have never managed to acquire.

And it all goes back to my curiosity about fellows and girls. As I say, I only imagined things about them, but Jimmy knew. I was excluded from knowledge by the world of appearances that blinded and deafened me with emotion. The least thing could excite or depress me: the trees in the morning when I went to early Mass, the stained-glass windows in the church, the blue hilly streets at evening with the green flare of the gas lamps, the smells of cooking and perfume—even the smell of a cigarette packet that I had picked up from the gutter and crushed to my nose—all kept me at this side of the world of appearances, while Jimmy, by right of birth or breeding, was always at the other. I wanted him to tell me what it was like, but he didn’t seem to be able.

Then one evening he was listening to me talk while he leant against the pillar of his gate, his pale neat hair framing his pale, good-humoured face. My excitability seemed to rouse in him a mixture of amusement and pity.

“Why don’t you come over some night the family is away and I’ll show you a few things?” he asked lightly.

“What’ll you show me, Jimmy?” I asked eagerly.

“Noticed the new couple that’s come to live next door?” he asked with a nod in the direction of the house above his own.

“No,” I admitted in disappointment. It wasn’t only that I never knew anything but I never noticed anything either. And when he described the new family that was lodging there, I realized with chagrin that I didn’t even know Mrs. MacCarthy, who owned the house.

“Oh, they’re just a newly married couple,” he said. “They don’t know that they can be seen from our house.”

“But how, Jimmy?”

“Don’t look up now,” he said with a dreamy smile while his eyes strayed over my shoulder in the direction of the lane. “Wait till you’re going away. Their end wall is only a couple of feet from ours. You can see right into the bedroom from our attic.”

“And what do they do, Jimmy?”

“Oh,” he said with a pleasant laugh, “everything. You really should come.”

“You bet I’ll come,” I said, trying to sound tougher than I felt. It wasn’t that I saw anything wrong in it. It was rather that, for all my desire to become like Jimmy, [ was afraid of what it might do to me.

But it wasn’t enough for me to get behind the world of appearances. I had to study the appearances themselves, and for three evenings I stood under the gas lamp at the foot of our lane, across the road from the MacCarthys’, till I had identified the new lodgers. The husband was the first I spotted, because he came from his work at a regular hour. He was tall, with stiff jet-black hair and a big black guardsman’s moustache that somehow failed to conceal the youthfulness and ingenuousness of his face, which was long and lean. Usually, he came accompanied by an older man, and stood chatting for a few minutes outside his door—a black-coated, bowler-hatted figure who made large, sweeping gestures with his evening paper and sometimes doubled up in an explosion of loud laughter.

On the third evening I saw his wife—for she had obviously been waiting for him, looking from behind the parlour curtains, and when she saw him she scurried down the steps to join in the conversation. She had thrown an old jacket about her shoulders and stood there, her arms folded as though to protect herself further from the cold wind that blew down the hill from the open country, while her husband rested one hand fondly on her shoulder.

For the first time, I began to feel qualms about what I proposed to do. It was one thing to do it to people you didn’t know or care about, but, for me, even to recognize people was to adopt an emotional attitude towards them, and my attitude to this pair was already one of approval. They looked like people who might approve of me, too. That night I remained awake, thinking out the terms of an anonymous letter that would put them on their guard, till I had worked myself up into a fever of eloquence and indignation.

But I knew only too well that they would recognize the villain of the letter and that the villain would recognize me, so I did not write it. Instead, I gave way to fits of anger and moodiness against my parents. Yet even these were unreal, because on Saturday night when Mother made a parcel of my nightshirt—I had now become sufficiently self-conscious not to take a bag—I nearly broke down. There was something about my own house that night that upset me all over again. Father, with his cap over his eyes, was sitting under the wall-lamp, reading the paper, and Mother, a shawl about her shoulders, was crouched over the fire from her little wickerwork chair, listening; and I realized that they, too, were part of the world of appearances I was planning to destroy, and as I said good-night I almost felt that I was saying goodbye to them as well.

But once inside Jimmy’s house I did not care so much. It always had that effect on me, of blowing me up to twice the size, as though I were expanding to greet the piano, the binoculars, and the indoor toilet. I tried to pick out a tune on the piano with one hand, and Jimmy, having listened with amusement for some time, sat down and played it himself as I felt it should be played, and this, too, seemed to be part of his superiority.

“I suppose we’d better put in an appearance of going to bed,” he said disdainfully. “Someone across the road might notice and tell. They’re in town, so I don’t suppose they’ll be back till late.”

We had a glass of milk in the kitchen, went upstairs, undressed, and lay down, though we put our overcoats beside the bed. Jimmy had a packet of sweets but insisted on keeping them till later. “We may need these before we’re done,” he said with his knowing smile, and again I admired his orderliness and restraint. We talked in bed for a quarter of an hour; then put out the light, got up again, donned our overcoats and socks, and tiptoed upstairs to the attic. Jimmy led the way with an electric torch. He was a fellow who thought of everything. The attic had been arranged for our vigil. Two trunks had been drawn up to the little window to act as seats, and there were even cushions on them. Looking out, you could at first see nothing but an expanse of blank wall topped with chimney stacks, but gradually you could make out the outline of a single window, eight or ten feet below. Jimmy sat beside me and opened his packet of sweets, which he laid between us.

“Of course, we could have stayed in bed till we heard them come in,” he whispered. “Usually you can hear them at the front door, but they might have come in quietly or we might have fallen asleep. It’s always best to make sure.”

“But why don’t they draw the blind?” I asked as my heart began to beat uncomfortably.

“Because there isn’t a blind,” he said with a quiet chuckle. “Old Mrs. MacCarthy never had one, and she’s not going to put one in for lodgers who may be gone tomorrow. People like that never rest till they get a house of their own.”

I envied him his nonchalance as he sat back with his legs crossed, sucking a sweet just as though he were waiting in the cinema for the show to begin. I was scared by the darkness and the mystery, and by the sounds that came to us from the road with such extraordinary clarity. Besides, of course, it wasn’t my house and I didn’t feel at home there. At any moment I expected the front door to open and his parents to come in and catch us.

We must have been waiting for half an hour before we heard voices in the roadway, the sound of a key in the latch and, then, of a door opening and closing softly. Jimmy reached out and touched my arm lightly. “This is probably our pair,” he whispered. “We’d better not speak any more in case they might hear us.” I nodded, wishing I had never come. At that moment a faint light became visible in the great expanse of black wall, a faint, yellow stairlight that was just sufficient to silhouette the window frame beneath us. Suddenly the whole room lit up. The man I had seen in the street stood by the doorway, his hand still on the switch. I could see it all plainly now, an ordinary small, suburban bedroom with flowery wallpaper, a coloured picture of the Sacred Heart over the double bed with the big brass knobs, a wardrobe, and a dressing-table.

The man stood there till the woman came in, removing her hat in a single wide gesture and tossing it from her into a corner of the room. He still stood by the door, taking off his tic. Then he struggled with the collar, his head raised and his face set in an agonized expression. His wife kicked off her shoes, sat on a chair by the bed, and began to take off her stockings. All the time she seemed to be talking because her head was raised, looking at him, though you couldn’t hear a word she said. I glanced at Jimmy. The light from the window below softly illumined his face as he sucked with tranquil enjoyment.

The woman rose as her husband sat on the bed with his back to us and began to take off his shoes and socks in the same slow, agonized way. At one point he held up his left foot and looked at it with what might have been concern. His wife looked at it, too, for a moment and then swung half-way round as she unbottoned her skirt. She undressed in swift, jerky movements, twisting and turning and apparently talking all the time. At one moment she looked into the mirror on the dressing-table and touched her cheek lightly. She crouched as she took off her slip, and then pulled her nightdress over her head and finished her undressing beneath it. As she removed her underclothes she seemed to throw them anywhere at all, and I had a strong impression that there was something haphazard and disorderly about her. Her husband was different. Everything he removed seemed to be removed in order and then put carefully where he could find it most readily in the morning. I watched him take out his watch, look at it carefully, wind it, and then hang it neatly over the bed.

Then, to my surprise, she knelt by the bed, facing towards the window, glanced up at the picture of the Sacred Heart, made a large hasty Sign of the Cross, and, covering her face with her hands, buried her head in the bedclothes. I looked at Jimmy in dismay, but he did not seem to be embarrassed by the sight. The husband, his folded trousers in his hand, moved about the room slowly and carefully, as though he did not wish to disturb his wife’s devotions, and when he pulled on the trousers of his pyjamas he turned away. After that he put on his pyjama jacket, buttoned it carefully, and knelt beside her. He, too, glanced respectfully at the picture and crossed himself slowly and reverently, but he did not bury his face and head as she had done. He knelt upright with nothing of the abandonment suggested by her pose, and with an expression that combined reverence and self-respect. It was the expression of an employee who, while admitting that he might have a few little weaknesses like the rest of the staff, prided himself on having deserved well of the management. Women, his slightly complacent air seemed to indicate, had to adopt these emotional attitudes, but he spoke to God as one man to another. He finished his prayers before his wife; again he crossed himself slowly, rose, and climbed into bed, glancing again at his watch as he did so.

Several minutes passed before she put her hands out before her on the bed, blessed herself in her wide, sweeping way, and rose. She crossed the room in a swift movement that almost escaped me, and next moment the light went out—it was as if the window through which we had watched the scene had disappeared with it by magic, till nothing was left but a blank black wall mounting to the chimney pots.

Jimmy rose slowly and pointed the way out to me with his flashlight. When we got downstairs we put on the bedroom light, and I saw on his face the virtuous and sophisticated air of a collector who has shown you all his treasures in the best possible light. Faced with that look, I could not bring myself to mention the woman at prayer, though I felt her image would be impressed on my memory till the day I died. I could not have explained to him how at that moment everything had changed for me, how, beyond us watching the young married couple from ambush, I had felt someone else watching us, so that at once we ceased to be the observers and became the observed. And the observed in such a humiliating position that nothing I could imagine our victims doing would have been so degrading.

I wanted to pray myself but found I couldn’t. Instead, I lay in bed in the darkness, covering my eyes with my hand, and I think that even then I knew that I should never be sophisticated like Jimmy, never be able to put on a knowing smile, because always beyond the world of appearances I would see only eternity watching.

“Sometimes, of course, it’s better than that,” Jimmy’s drowsy voice said from the darkness. “You shouldn’t judge it by tonight.”


I could never see precisely what was supposed to be exaggerated in the plots of novelists like Dickens. To this day I can still read about some mysterious street-urchin, brought up to poverty and vice by a rag-picker, who turns out to be the missing heir to an earldom, and see nothing peculiar about it. To me, it all seems the most natural thing in the world.

Having always been Mother’s pet, I was comparatively grown-up when the truth about my own birth broke on me first. In fact, I was already at work as a messenger boy on the railway. Naturally, I had played with the idea as I had played with scores of other ideas, but suddenly, almost in a day, every other possibility disappeared, and I knew I had nothing whatever in common with the two commonplace creatures with whom my fate had become so strangely linked.

It wasn’t only their poverty that repelled me, though that was bad enough, or the tiny terrace house we lived in, with its twelve-foot square of garden in front, its crumbling stumps of gate-posts and low wall that had lost its railing. It was their utter commonness, their squabbles about money, their low friends and fatuous conversations. You could see that no breath of fineness had ever touched them. They seemed like people who had been crippled from birth and never known what it was to walk or run or dance. Though I might be—for the moment, at least—only a messenger, I had those long spells when by some sort of instinct I knew who I really was, could stand aside and watch myself come up the road after my day’s work with relaxed and measured steps, turning my head slowly to greet some neighbour and raising my cap with a grace and charm that came of centuries of breeding. Not only could I see myself like that; there were even times when I could hear an interior voice that preceded and dictated each movement as though it were a fragment of a story-book: “He raised his cap gracefully while his face broke into a thoughtful smile.”

And then, as I turned the corner, I would see Father, at the gate in his house clothes, a ragged trousers and vest, an old cap that came down over his eyes, and boots cut into something that resembled sandals and that he insisted on calling his “slippers.” Father was a creature of habit. No sooner was he out of his working clothes than he was peppering for his evening paper, and if the newsboy were five minutes late, Father muttered: “I don’t know what’s coming over that boy at all!” and drifted down to the main road to listen for him. When the newsboy did at last appear, Father would grab the paper from his hand and almost run home, putting on his spectacles awkwardly as he ran and triumphantly surveying the promised treat of the headlines.

And suddenly everything would go black on me, and I would take the chair by the open back door while Father, sitting at the other end, uttered little exclamations of joy or rage and Mother asked anxiously how I had got on during the day. Most of the time I could reply only in monosyllables. How could I tell her that nothing had happened at work that was not as common as the things that happened at home: nothing but those moments of blinding illumination when I was alone in the station yard on a spring morning with sunlight striking the cliffs above the tunnel, and, picking my way between the rails and the trucks, I realized that it was not for long, that I was a duke or earl, lost, stolen, or strayed from my proper home, and that I had only to be discovered for everything to fall into its place? Illumination came only when I had escaped; most often when I crossed the yard on my way from work and dawdled in the passenger station before the bookstall, or watched a passenger train go out on its way to Queenstown or Dublin and realized that one day some train like that would take me back to my true home and patrimony.

These gloomy silences used to make Father mad. He was a talkative man, and every little incident of his day turned into narrative and drama for him. He seemed forever to be meeting old comrades of his army days whom he had not met for fifteen years, and astounding changes had always taken place in them in the meantime. When one of his old friends called, or even when some woman from across the square dropped in for a cup of tea, he would leave everything, even his newspaper, to talk. His corner by the window permitting him no room for drama, he would stamp about the tiny kitchen, pausing at the back door to glance up at the sky or by the other door into the little hallway to see who was passing outside in the Square. It irritated him when I got up in the middle of all this, took my cap, and went quietly out. It irritated him even more if I read while he and the others talked, and, when some question was addressed to me, put down my book and gazed at him blankly. He was so coarse in grain that he regarded it as insolence. He had no experience of dukes, and had never heard that interior voice which dictated my movements and words. “Slowly the lad lowered the book in which he had been immersed and gazed wonderingly at the man who called himself his father.”

One evening I was coming home from work when a girl spoke to me. She was a girl called Nancy Harding whose elder brother I knew slightly. I had never spoken to her—indeed, there were not many girls I did speak to. I was too conscious of the fact that, though my jacket was good enough, my trousers were an old blue pair of Father’s, cut down and with a big patch in the seat. But Nancy, emerging from a house near the quarry, hailed me as if we were old friends and walked with me up the road. She was slim and dark-haired with an eager and inconsequent manner, and her chatter bewildered and charmed me. My own conversation was of a rather portentous sort.

“I was down with Madge Regan, getting the answers for my homework,” she explained. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I can’t do those blooming old sums. Where were you?”

“Oh, I was at work,” I answered.

“At work?” she exclaimed in astonishment. “Till this hour?”

“I have to work from eight to seven,” I said modestly.

“But, Cripes, aren’t they terrible hours?” she said.

“Ah, I’m only filling in time,” I explained lightly. “I don’t expect to be there long.”

This was prophetic, because I was sacked a couple of months later, but at the time I just wanted to make it clear if there was any exploitation being done it was I and not the railway company that was doing it. We walked slowly, and she stood under the gas lamp at the end of the Square with me. Darkness or day, it was funny how people made a rendezvous of gas lamps. They were our playrooms when we were kids and our clubs as we became older. And then, for the first time, I heard the words running through my head as though they were dictating to someone else beside myself: “Pleased with his quiet conversation and well-bred voice, she wondered if he could really be the son of the Delaneys at all.” Up to this, the voice had paid no attention to other people; now that it had begun to expand its activities it took on a new reality, and I longed to repeat the experience.

I had several opportunities, because we met like that a couple of times when I was coming home from work. I was not observant, and it wasn’t until years after that it struck me that she might have been waiting for me at the same house at the same time. And one evening, when we were standing under our old gas lamp, I talked a little too enthusiastically about some story-book, and Nancy asked for the loan of it. I was pleased with her attention but alarmed at the thought of her seeing where I lived.

“I’ll bring it with me tomorrow,” I said.

“Ah, come on and get it for me now,” she said coaxingly, and I glanced over my shoulder and saw Father at the gate, his head cocked, listening for the newsboy. I felt suddenly sick. I knew such a nice girl couldn’t possibly want to meet Father, but I didn’t see how I was to get the book without introducing them. We went up the little uneven avenue together.

“This is Nancy Harding, Dad,” I said in an off-hand tone. “I just want to get a book for her.”

“Oh, come in, girl, come in,” he said, smiling amiably. “Sit down, can’t you, while you’re waiting?” Father’s sociability almost caused him to forget the newsboy. “Min,” he called to Mother, “you keep an eye on the paper,” and he set a chair in the middle of the kitchen floor. As I searched in the front room for the book, which in my desperation I could not find, I heard Mother go for the paper and Father talking away like mad to Nancy, and when I went into the kitchen, there he was in his favourite chair, the paper lying unopened on the table beside him while he told an endless, pointless story about old times in the neighbourhood. Father had been born in the neighbourhood, which he seemed to think a matter for pride, but if there was one of Father’s favourite subjects I could not stand, it was the still wilder and more sordid life people had lived there when he was growing up. This story was about a wake—all his juiciest stories were about wakes—and a tired woman getting jealous of the corpse in the bed. He was so pleased with Nancy’s attention that he was dramatizing even more than usual, and I stood silent in the kitchen door for several minutes with a ducal air of scorn before he even noticed me. As I saw Nancy to the road I felt humiliated to the depths of my being. I noticed that the hallway was streaming with damp, that our gate was only a pair of brick stumps from which the cement had fallen away, and that the Square, which had never been adopted by the Council, was full of washing. There were two washerwomen on the terrace, each with a line of her own.

But that wasn’t the worst. One evening when I came home, Mother said joyously:

“Oh, your dad ran into that nice little Harding girl on his way home.”

“Oh, did he?” I asked indifferently, though feeling I had been kicked hard in the stomach.

“Oh, my goodness!” Father exclaimed, letting down his paper for a moment and crowing. “The way that one talks! Spatter! spatter! spatter! And, by the way,” he added, looking at me over his glasses, “her aunt Lil used to be a great friend of your mother’s at one time. Her mother was a Clancy. I knew there was something familiar about her face.”

“I’d never have recognized it,” Mother said gravely. “Such a quiet little woman as Miss Clancy used to be.”

“Oh, begor, there’s nothing quiet about that piece,” chortled Father, but he did not sound disapproving. Father liked young people with something to say for themselves—not like me.

I was mortified. It was bad enough not seeing Nancy myself, but to have her meet Father like that, in his working clothes coming from the manure factory down the Glen, and hear him—as I had no doubt she did hear him —talk in his ignorant way about me was too much. I could not help contrasting Father with Mr. Harding, whom I occasionally met coming from work and whom I looked at with a respect that bordered on reverence. He was a small man with a face like a clenched fist, always very neatly dressed, and he usually carried his newspaper rolled up like a baton and sometimes hit his thigh with it as he strode briskly home.

One evening when I glanced shyly at him, he nodded in his brusque way. Everything about him was brusque, keen, and soldierly, and when I saw that he recognized me I swung into step beside him. He was like a military procession with a brass band, the way he always set the pace for anyone who accompanied him.

“Where are you working now?” he asked sharply with a side glance at me.

“Oh, on the railway still,” I said. “Just for a few months, anyway.”

“And what are you doing there?”

“Oh, just helping in the office,” I replied lightly. I knew this was not exactly true, but I hated to tell anybody that I was only a messenger boy. “Of course, I study in my spare time,” I added hastily. It was remarkable how the speeding up of my pace seemed to speed up my romancing as well. There was something breathless about the man that left me breathless, too. “I thought of taking the Indian Civil Service exam or something of the sort. There’s no future in railways.”

“Isn’t there?” he asked with some surprise.

“Not really,” I answered indifferently. “Another few years and it will all be trucks. I really do it only as a stop-gap. I wouldn’t like to take any permanent job unless I could travel. Outside Ireland, I mean. You see, languages are my major interest.”

“Are they?” he asked in the same tone. “How many do you know?”

“Oh, only French and German at the moment—I mean, enough to get round with,” I said. The pace was telling on me. I felt I wasn’t making the right impression. Maybe to be a proper linguist you needed to know a dozen languages. I mended my hand as best I could. “I’m going to do Italian and Spanish this winter if I get time. You can’t get anywhere in the modern world without Spanish. After English it’s the most spoken of them all.”

“Go on!” he said.

I wasn’t altogether pleased with the results of this conversation. The moment I had left him, I slowed down to a gentle stroll, and this made me realize that the quick march had committed me farther than I liked to go. All I really knew of foreign languages was a few odd words and phrases, like echoes of some dream of my lost fatherland, which I learned and repeated to myself with a strange, dreamy pleasure. It was not prudent to pretend that I knew the languages thoroughly. After all, Mr. Harding had three daughters, all well educated. People were always being asked to his house, and I had even been encouraging myself with the prospect of being asked as well. But now, if I were invited, it would be mainly because of my supposed knowledge of foreign languages, and when Nancy or one of her sisters burst into fluent French or German my few poetic phrases would not be much help. I needed something more practical, something to do with railways, for preference. I had an old French phrase-book, which I had borrowed from somebody, and I determined to learn as much as I could of this by heart.

I worked hard, spurred on by an unexpected meeting with Nancy’s eldest sister, Rita, who suddenly stopped and spoke to me on the road, though to my astonishment and relief she spoke in English.

Then, one evening when I was on my usual walk, which in those days nearly always brought me somewhere near Nancy’s house, I ran into her going in, and we stood at the street corner near her home. I was pleased with this because Rita came out soon afterwards and said in a conspiratorial tone: “Why don’t ye grab the sofa before Kitty gets it?” which made Nancy blush, and then her father passed and nodded to us. I waved back to him, but Nancy had turned her back as he appeared so that she did not see him. I drew her attention to him striding down the road, but somehow this only put her in mind of my father.

“I saw him again the other day,” she said with a smile that hurt me.

“Did you?” I asked with a sniff. “What was he talking about? His soldiering days?”

“No,” she said with interest. “Does he talk about them?”

“Does he ever talk about anything else?” I replied wearily. “I have that last war off by heart. It seems to have been the only thing that ever happened him.”

“He knows a terrible lot, though, doesn’t he?” she asked.

“He’s concealed it pretty well,” I replied. “The man is an out-and-out failure, and he’s managed to turn Mother into one as well. I suppose she had whatever brains there were between them—which wasn’t much, I’m afraid.”

“Go on!” said Nancy with a bewildered air. “Then why did she marry him?”

“Echo answers why,’” I said with a laugh at being able to get in a phrase that had delighted me in some story-book. “Oh, I suppose it was the usual thing.” And, when I saw her gaping at me in wonderment, I shrugged my shoulders and added superciliously: “Lust.”

Nancy blushed again and made to leave.

“Well, it’s well to be you,” she said, “knowing what’s wrong with him. God alone knows what’s wrong with mine.”

I was sorry she had to go in such a hurry, but pleased with the impression of culture and sophistication I had managed to convey, and I looked forward to showing off a bit more when I went to one of their Sunday evening parties. With that, and some really practical French, I could probably get anywhere.

At the same time it struck me that they were very slow about asking me, and my evening walks past their house took on a sort of stubborn defiance. At least, I wouldn’t let them ignore me. It wasn’t until weeks later that the bitter truth dawned on me—that I was not being invited because nobody wanted me there. Nancy had seen my home and talked to my parents; her sisters and father had seen me; and all of them had seen my cut-down trousers with the patch on the seat. It mattered nothing to them even if I spoke French and German like an angel, even if I were liable to be sent off to India in the next few months. They did not think I was their class.

Those were the bitterest weeks of my life. With a sort of despair I took my evening walk in the early winter days past their house, but never saw anybody, and as I turned up the muddy lane behind it and heard the wind moaning in the branches, and looked down across the sloping field to their house, nestling in the hollow with the light shining brilliantly in the kitchen, where the girls did their homework, it seemed to be full of all the beauty I would never know. Sometimes, when I was leaning over the lane wall and watching it, it even seemed possible that I was what they thought, not the son of a duke but the son of a labourer in the manure factory; but at other times, as I was walking home by myself, tired and dispirited, the truth blazed up angrily in me again, and I knew that when it became known, the Hardings would be the first to regret their blindness. At such times I was always making brilliant loveless matches and then revealing coldly to Nancy that I had never cared for anyone but her.

It was at the lowest depth of my misery that I was introduced to a girl called May Dwyer, and somehow, from the first moment, I found that there was no need for me to indulge in invention. Invention and May would never have gone together. She had a directness of approach I had never met with before in a girl. The very first evening I saw her home she asked me if I could afford the tram fare. That shocked me, but afterwards I was grateful. Then she asked me in to see her parents, which scared me stiff, but I promised to come in another night when it wasn’t so late, and at once she told me which evenings she was free. It was not forwardness or lightness in her; it was all part of a directness that made her immediately both a companion and a sweetheart. I owe her a lot, for without her I might still be airing my French and German to any woman who attracted me.

Even when I did go in with her for a cup of tea, I felt at home after the first few minutes. Of course, May asked me if I wanted to go upstairs, a thing no woman had ever suggested before to me, and I blushed, but by this time I was becoming used to her methods. Her father was a long, sad Civil Servant, and her mother a bright, direct little woman not unlike May herself, and whatever he said, the pair of them argued with and jeered him unmercifully. This only made him hang his head lower, but suddenly, after I had been talking for a while, he began to argue with me about the state of the country, which seemed to cause him a lot of concern. In those days I was very optimistic on the subject, and I put my hands deep in my trousers pockets and answered him back politely but firmly. Then he caught me out on a matter of fact, and suddenly he gave a great crow of delight and went out to bring in two bottles of Guinness. By this time I was so much in my element that I accepted the Guinness: I always have loved a good argument.

“Cripes!” May said when I was leaving, “do you ever stop once you start?”

“It’s not so often I meet an intelligent talker,” I said loftily.

“When you’ve heard as much of my old fellow as I have, maybe you won’t think he’s so intelligent,” she said, but she did not sound indignant, and I had an impression that she was really quite pleased at having brought home a young fellow who could entertain her father. It gave her the feeling that she was really all the time an intellectual, but had met the wrong sort of boy. In the years I was courting her we quarrelled like hell, but between her father and me it was a case of love at first sight. After I was fired from the railway, it was he who got me another job and insisted on my looking after it. The poor devil had always been pining for a man in the house.

Then one evening I ran into Nancy Harding, whom I had not seen for some months. It was an embarrassing moment because I realized at once that my fantasy had all come true. If I had not actually made a brilliant match, I had as good as done so, and yet she was my first and purest love.

“I hear you and May Dwyer are very great these days,” she said, and something in her tone struck me as peculiar. Afterwards I realized that it was the tone I was supposed to adopt when I broke the news to her.

“I’ve seen quite a lot of her,” I admitted.

“You weren’t long getting hooked,” she went on with a smile that somehow did not come off.

“I don’t know about being ‘hooked,’ as you call it,” I said, getting on my dignity at once. “She asked me to her house and I went, that’s all.”

“Oh, we know all about it,” said Nancy, and this time there was no mistaking the malice in her tone. “You don’t have to tell me anything.”

“Well, there isn’t so much to tell,” I replied with a bland smile.

“And I suppose she talks French and German like a native?” asked Nancy.

This reference to the falsehoods I had told did hurt me. I had known they were indiscreet, but it hadn’t occurred to me that they would become a joke in the Harding family.

“I don’t honestly know what you’re talking about, Nancy,” I said weakly. “May asked me to her house and I went, just as I’d have gone to yours if you’d asked me. That’s all there is to it.”

“Oh, is that all?” she asked in her commonest tone, and suddenly, to my astonishment, I saw tears in her eyes. “And if you had a house like mine you wouldn’t mind asking people there either, would you? And sisters like mine! And a father like mine! It’s all very well for you to grouse about your old fellow, but if you had one like mine you’d have something to talk about. Blooming old pig, wouldn’t open his mouth to you. ’Tis easy for you to talk, Larry Delaney! Damn easy!”

And then she shot away from me to conceal her tears, and I was left standing there on the pavement, stunned. Too stunned really to have done anything about it. It had all happened too suddenly, and been too great an intrusion on my fantasy for me to grasp it at all. I was so astonished and upset that, though I was to have met May that night, I didn’t go. Instead I went for a lonely walk by myself, over the hills to the river, to think what I should do about it. In the end, of course, I did nothing at all; I had no experience to indicate to me what I could do; and it was not until years later that I even realized that the reason I had cared so much for Nancy was that she, like myself, was one of the duke’s children, one of those outcasts of a lost fatherland who go through life living above and beyond themselves like some image of man’s original aspiration.


Except for occasional moments of embarrassment I never really minded being out of work. I lived at home, so I didn’t need money, and though this made things harder for Mother, and Father put on a sour puss about having to feed and clothe me, I spent so much of my time out of doors that I didn’t need to think about them. The uncomfortable moments came when I saw some girl I knew on a tram and could not get on it because I could not pay her fare, or when I was walking with some fellows whose conversation I enjoyed and I had to make some excuse to leave them when they went in for a drink. At times like these I was very sorry for myself and very angry with people and life.

Never for long, though, and the rest of the time I was perfectly happy, for I was free to go on with my own thoughts. I wasn’t opposed to work on principle because I knew a number of quite nice people who thought highly of it, but I did think that in practice people wasted too much valuable time on it for the little it gave them back. While I had worked on the railway I had been miserable, doing things I disliked and talking to chaps to whom I felt indifferent.

When the weather was really too bad, I sat in the reading room in the Public Library and read steadily through all the reviews and periodicals, about the crisis in British politics, penal reform, unemployment, and social security. I was very strongly in favour of social security. When the weather was fair, and even when it wasn’t, I walked a great deal; and because I felt I really had no right to my walks, they gave me something of the same pleasure I felt as a kid when I went on the lang from school. There is only one element common to all forms of romance—guilt; and I felt guilty about my views on the Conservative Party and social security, while all the places I walked in had a curious poetic aura, as though each of them belonged to an entirely different country—the Glen to Scotland, the country north of our house, with its streams and fields and neat little farmhouses, to England, the river roads to the Rhineland—so that it would not have surprised me in the least if the people I met in them all spoke different languages.

Each neighbourhood, too, had its own sort of imaginary girl, noble and tragic in the Glen, gentle and charming in the English countryside, subtle and cultivated along the river, like the big houses that stood there, sheltered behind their high stone walls. Sometimes we just met and talked, since she shared my liking for the countryside; and we both realized, as we told one another the story of our lives, that, different in every way as these were, we had everything else in common. She was usually rich— English or American; and I had to persuade her about the political folly of her class, but this never seemed to offer any difficulties to her clear and sympathetic intelligence.

But at other times, perhaps when the feeling of guilt was strongest in me, she would be in some serious difficulty; being run away with by a wild horse, flying from kidnappers, or just drowning. At the right moment, with a coolness that was bound to appeal to any girl, I stepped in: stopped the horse, scattered the gangsters, or swam ashore with her from the sinking boat. Though modesty required that I should then leave without telling her my name, leaving her to a life-long search, it nearly always happened that I accompanied her back to the Imperial Hotel and was introduced to her father, who was naturally grateful and, besides, had been looking for a young man just like me, with a real understanding of the political situation, to take over his business. If I thought of my own position at all on those walks, it was only with a gentle regret that economic conditions deprived the world of the attention of a really superior mind. And the worse my situation was, the better my mind functioned.

My real difficulty came from good-natured friends who didn’t, as they would have put it, want to see me wasting my time. They were always trying to get me introductions to influential people who might be able to fit me in somewhere as a warehouse clerk at thirty bob a week. I knew they meant it well, and I did my best to be grateful, but they hurt me more than Father did with his scowling and snarling, or than any of the handful of enemies I had in the locality, who, I knew, talked of me as a good-for-nothing or a half-idiot. “Well, Larry,” my friends would say sagaciously, “you’re getting on, you know. ’Twon’t be long now till you’re twenty, and even if it was only a small job, it would be better than nothing.” And I would look at them sadly and realize that they were measuring me up against whatever miserable sort of vacancy they were capable of imagining, and seeing no disparity between us. Of course, I interviewed the influential people they sent me to, and pretended a life-long interest in double-entry bookkeeping, though I never had been able to understand the damned thing, and tried to look like a quiet, hard-working, religious boy who would never give any trouble. I could scarcely tell the owner of a big store that I liked being out of work. Anyway, I doubt if there was any need, because any jobs they had didn’t come my way.

One night I went all the way to Blackrock, a little fishing village down the river from Cork, to see a solicitor who was supposed to have an interest in some new factory; and he talked to me for two solid hours about the commercial development of the city, and, at the end of it all, said he’d keep me in mind in case anything turned up. I left his house rather late and discovered to my disgust that I hadn’t the price of the tram. This was one of my really bad moments. To feel guilty and have to walk is one thing; to feel as virtuous as I did, after talking for hours about reclamation schemes, and still have to walk is another. Besides, I had no cigarettes.

There were two ways into town: one through the suburbs, the other, a little shorter, along the river-bank, and I chose this. It was a pleasant enough place by day; a river-walk called the Marina facing a beautiful road called Tivoli at the other side, and above Tivoli were the sandstone cliffs and expensive villas of Montenotte, all named with the nostalgia of an earlier day. It had an avenue of trees, a bandstand, seats for the nursemaids, and two guns captured in the Crimea, over which the children climbed. It was part of the Rhineland of my daydreams, but by night the resemblance was not so clear. As it approached the city it petered out in jetties, old warehouses, and badly lit streets of sailors’ lodging-houses.

I had just emerged into this part when I heard a woman scream. It startled me out of my reverie, and I stood and looked about me. It was very dark. Then under a gas lamp at the corner of a warehouse I saw a man and a woman in some sort of cling. The woman was screaming her head off, and, thinking that she might have been taken ill, I ran towards them. As I did, the man broke away and walked quickly up the quay, and the woman stopped screaming and began to sob, turning her face to the wall in a curiously childish gesture of despair. As she wasn’t sick, I felt awkward and merely stopped and raised my cap.

“Can I help you, miss?” I asked doubtfully.

She shook her head several times without looking at me.

“The dirty rat!” she sobbed, rubbing her face with her hand, and then she poured forth a stream of language I had never heard the like of, and some of which I didn’t understand at all. “All I earned the last two nights he took from me, the rat! the rat!”

“But why did he do that?” I asked, wondering if the man could be her husband, and she gaped at me in astonishment, the tears still streaming down her little painted face. It wouldn’t have been a bad face if only she’d let it alone.

“Because he says ’tis his beat,” she said. “All the girls has to pay him. He says ’tis for protection.”

“But why don’t you tell the police?” I asked.

“The police?” she echoed in the same tone. “A hell of a lot the police care about the likes of us. Only to get more out of us, if they could.”

“But how much did he take?” I asked.

“Five quid,” she replied, and began to sob again, taking out a dirty little handkerchief to dab her eyes. “Five blooming quid! All I earned in the past two nights! And now there won’t be another ship for a week, and the old landlady will be after me for the rent.”

“All right,” I said, coming to a quick decision, “I’ll ask him about it.”

Which was exactly as far as I proposed to go. It was all still well beyond my comprehension. I quickened my step and went after the footsteps I heard retreating up the quay. Like all dreamy and timid people who will do anything to avoid a row on their own account, I have always taken an unnatural delight in those that other people thrust on me. It never even crossed my mind that I was in a dangerous locality and that I might quite well end up in the river with a knife in my back.

Some of my doubts were dispelled when the man in front of me looked back and began to run. This seemed like an admission of guilt, so I ran, too. Since I walked miles every day, I was in excellent condition, and I knew he had small chance of getting away from me. He soon realized this as well and stopped with his back to the wall of a house and his right arm lifted. He was a tall, thin fellow with a long, pasty, cadaverous face, a moustache that looked as though it had been put in with an eyebrow pencil, and side-burns. He was good-looking, too, in his own coarse way.

“Excuse me,” I said, panting but still polite, “the lady behind seems to think you have some money of hers.”

“Lady?” he snarled. “What lady? That’s no lady, you fool!”

I didn’t like his tone and I strongly resented his words. I realized now what the girl behind me was, but that made no difference to me. I had been brought up to treat every woman as a lady, and had no idea that a crook is as sensitive about respectability as a bank manager. It really pains him to have to deal with immoral women.

“I didn’t know,” I said apologetically. “I’m sorry. But I promised to ask you about the money.”

“Ask what you like!” he said, beginning to shout. “The money is mine.”

“Oh, you mean she took it from you?” I said, thinking I was beginning to see the truth at last.

“Who said she took it from me?” he growled, as though I had accused him of something really bad. “She owes it to me.”

Apparently I wasn’t really seeing daylight.

“You mean you lent it to her?” I asked, but that only seemed to make him mad entirely.

“What the hell do you think I am?” he asked arrogantly. “A moneylender? She agreed to pay me to look after her, and now she’s trying to rob me.”

“But how do you look after her?” I asked—quite innocently as it happened, though he didn’t seem to think so.

“How do I look after her?” he repeated. “My God, man, a woman would have no chance in a place like this without a man to look after her. Or have you any idea what it’s like?”

I hadn’t, and I regretted it. It struck me that perhaps I wasn’t really justified in interfering, that people had their own arrangements and she might have tried some sharp practice on him. I did not realize that every crook has to have a principle to defend; otherwise, he would be compelled to have a low opinion of himself, which is something that no crook likes. It was the fellow’s manner I distrusted. If only he had been polite, I wouldn’t have dreamed of interfering.

“But, in that case, surely you should let her look after herself,” I said.’

“What the hell do you mean P”

“I mean, if she broke a bargain, you should just refuse to look after her any more,” I explained reasonably. “That ought to bring her to her senses, and if it doesn’t, anything that happens is her own fault.”

He looked at me incredulously, as though I was an idiot, which, recollecting the whole incident, is about the only way I can describe myself.

“If I were you,” I went on, “I’d simply give her back the money and have nothing more to do with her.”

“I’ll do nothing of the sort,” he said, drawing himself up. “That money is mine. I told you that.”

“Now, look,” I said almost pleadingly, “I don’t want to have a row with you about it. It’s only the state she’s in.”

“You think you can make me?” he asked threateningly.

“Well, I promised the girl,” I said.

I know it sounds feeble, but feeble was what my position was, not knowing right from wrong in the matter. He glanced up the quay, and for a moment I thought he was going to make a bolt for it, but he decided against it. God knows why! I can’t have looked very formidable. Then he drew himself up to his full height, the very picture of outraged rectitude, gave me a couple of pound notes, turned on his heel and began to walk away. I counted the notes and suddenly became absolutely furious.

“Come back here, you!” I said.

“What the hell is it now?” he asked as though this was the last indignity.

“I want the rest of that money,” I said.

“That’s all she give me,” he snarled. “What’s this? A hold-up ?”

“That’s what it’s going to be unless you hand over what you stole, God blast you!” I said. Now no further doubts contained the flood of indignation that was rising in me. I had given him every opportunity of explaining himself and behaving like a gentleman, and this was how he had repaid me. I knew that a man who had tried to deceive me at such a moment was only too capable of deceiving a defenceless girl, and I was determined that he should deceive her no longer. He gave me the money, a bit frightened in his manner, and I added bitingly: “And next time you interfere with that girl, you’d better know what’s going to happen you. For two pins I’d pitch you in the river, side-burns and all, you dirty, lying little brute!”

It alarms me now to write of my own imprudence, but even that did not rouse him to fighting, and he went off up the quay, muttering to himself. The girl had crept nearer us as we argued, and now she rushed up to me, still weeping.

“God bless you, boy, God bless you!” she said wildly. “I’ll pray for you the longest day I live, for what you done for me.”

And then suddenly I felt very weak, and realized that I was trembling all over, trembling so that I could scarcely move. Heroism, it seemed, did not come naturally to me. All the same I managed to muster up a smile.

“You’d better let me see you home,” I said. “I don’t think you’ll have any more trouble with that fellow, but just at the moment it might be better not to meet him alone.”

“Here,” she said, giving me back two of the five notes I had handed her. “Take these. For yourself!”

“I will not, indeed,” I said, laughing. “For what?”

“That’s all you know, boy,” she said bitterly. “That fellow have the heart scalded out of the poor unfortunate girls here. A hard life enough they have without it, the dear God knows!”

“If he talks to you again, tell him you’ll put me on him,” I said. “Delaney is my name. Larry Delaney. Tell him I’m a middle-weight champion. I’m not, but he won’t know.” And I laughed again, in sheer relief.

“Go on, Larry!” she said determinedly, trying to make me take the two banknotes. “Take them!”

“I’ll do nothing of the sort,” I said. “But I’ll take a fag if you have one. I’m dying for a hale.”

“God, isn’t it the likes of you would be without them?” she said, fumbling in her bag. “Here, take the packet, boy! I have tons.”

“No, thanks,” I said. “It’s just that I get a bit excited.” Which was a mild way of describing the way my hands jumped when I stood and tried to light that cigarette. She saw it, too.

“What brought you down here at all?” she asked inquisitively.

“I had to walk from Blackrock,” I said.

“And where do you work? Or are you still at school?”

“I’m not working at the moment,” I said. “That’s what took me out to Blackrock, looking for a job.”

“God help us, isn’t it hard?” she said. “But you won’t be long that way with God’s help. You have the stuff in you, Larry, not like most of them. You’re only a boy, but you stood up to that fellow that was twice your age.”

“Oh, him!” I said with a sniff. “He’s only a blow-hole.”

“Them are the dangerous ones, boy,” she said shrewdly, with a queer trick she had of narrowing her eyes. “Them are the ones you’d have to mind, or a bit of lead piping on the back of your head is what you’d be getting when you weren’t looking.” Frightened by her own words, she stopped and looked behind her. “Look, like a good boy,” she went on eagerly, “take the old couple of quid! Go on! Ah, do, can’t you! Sure, you’re out of a job—don’t I know damn well what ’tis like? I suppose you had to walk from Blackrock because you hadn’t the price of the tram. Do, Larry boy! Do! Just for fags! From me!”

She stuffed the money into the pocket of my jacket, and I suddenly found that I wanted it. Not only for its own sake, though it meant riches to me, but because she was that sort of woman, warm and generous and addle-pated, and because I knew it would give her a feeling of satisfaction. Because I was in an excited, emotional state, her emotion infected me. All the same I put a good face on it.

“That’s all right,” I said. “I’ll borrow it, and be very grateful. But I’m going to pay it back. And I don’t know your name or where you live.”

“Ah, for God’s sake!” she exclaimed with a joyous laugh. “Forget about it! So long as I have enough to keep the old landlady’s puss off me. But if you want to see me, my name is Molly Leahy, and I have a room here. But they all know me. You have only to ask for me.”

We shook hands and I promised to see her soon again. Mind, I meant that. I went over the bridges in a halo of self-satisfaction. I felt I had had a great adventure, had added a whole new area to my experience, and had learned things about life that nobody could ever have taught me.

That mood of exaltation lasted just as long as it took me to reach the well-lit corner by the cinema in King Street, and then it disappeared, and I stood there in a cold wind, unable to face the thought of returning home. I knew the reason without having to examine my conscience. It was the damned money in my pocket. It had nothing to do with the girl, or how she had earned it, nothing even to do with the fact that she needed it a great deal more than I did and probably deserved it more. It was just that I realized that the great moment of my daydreams had come to me without my recognizing it; that I had behaved myself as I had always hoped I would behave myself, and I had then taken pay for it and in this world need never expect more. Someone passed and looked back at me curiously, and I realized that I had been talking to myself.

Outside the Scots Church at the foot of Summerhill an old woman in a shawl was sitting on the low wall with her bag by her side.

“Gimme a few coppers for the night, sir, and that the Almighty God may make your bed in Heaven,” she whined.

“Here you are, ma’am,” I said with a laugh, handing her the two pound notes.

Then I hurried up the hill, pursued by her clamour. Of course, the moment I had done it, I knew it was wrong, the exhibitionistic behaviour of someone who was trying to reconcile the conflict in himself by a lying dramatic gesture. Next day I would be without cigarettes again and cursing myself for a fool. I was really destitute now, without money or self-respect.

After that I could find no pleasure in my solitary walks; the imaginary girls were all gone. I took the first job I was offered; but by the time I had saved two pounds and started to look down the Marina for Molly Leahy, she had disappeared, I suppose to Liverpool or Glasgow or one of the other safety-valves by which we pious folk keep ourselves safe in our own daydreams.


My mother was never really happy about my being in the secret revolutionary army, and Father hated it. Father was a natural conservative who hated change on principle, and he had a shrewd idea of the sort of families whose lack of balance would cause them to be concerned in it. Having relatives in the lunatic asylum would naturally be a predisposing factor. Another would be having come from some backward place like Carlow. Father disliked my great friend, Mick Ryan, for no other reason than that.

Now, I was a well-balanced young fellow. I will say that for myself. I didn’t drink; I smoked very little; I was regular at the packers’ where I worked; and no one could ever accuse me of not contributing my share to the housekeeping. So I did not fly off the handle as another might have done, and did my best to explain to Father that all this was only passion and prejudice on his part, that nothing would ever be improved if it depended on people like him, and that it didn’t really matter who a man was or where his family came from. It had no effect on Father. He didn’t want things to be improved; that was his trouble. He wanted them to last out his lifetime in the way in which he was used to them.

He tried to keep me in check by making me be home at ten, but I felt that as a revolutionist as well as a wage-earner, I had to stick out for half past. It was the old story. He wouldn’t give me a key and 80 to bed like a reasonable man. One lock wasn’t enough for him. The world was too uncertain, with murderers and thieves forever on the prowl. He had three separate bolts on the front door and had to bolt them himself before he could sleep. There was no use arguing with a man like that.

We met in a Gaelic League hall in a back street and discussed dispatches from Dublin telling us to be armed and ready for the great day. I didn’t see how we were to be armed at all, the way we were going. Our Quartermaster was a stocky little stone-mason called Johnny Forrestal, a bitter little pill who had been a revolutionary from the age of fifteen and had been in five gaols and on three hunger-strikes. He was above suspicion, and almost above criticism by kids like ourselves, but he had no luck. As soon as ever we scraped together a few pounds from the men’s subscriptions and bought a couple of rifles, the police made a raid and got them. It was making us all depressed to see our own few shillings go like that, and the Adjutant, Tom Harrison, was really savage about it. He said Johnny was too old, but I knew it wasn’t Johnny’s age that came against him 3 it was his vanity.

Johnny simply couldn’t walk down a street, in that stocky portentous way of his, without letting the whole world know he was a man who had fought in two wars and was waiting for his chance to fight in another. Johnny advertised himself, and I suspected that he had toadies who gave him all the admiration he expected and to whom he spilled everything.

But if Johnny was tough, Harrison was tougher. He was a grocer’s curate from down the country, tall and severe, and looking like a seminarist in mufti. He was a man who never hesitated to speak his mind, and as this was a privilege Johnny liked to reserve for himself, there was always bad blood between them.

“I tell you again there’s a spy in the camp,” Harrison shouted one night when we were discussing the latest catastrophe.

“Maybe you’d tell us who it is,” Johnny said, looking like one of his own tombstones.

“If I knew, he wouldn’t be there long,” Harrison said with an ugly look.

“You’d shoot him, I suppose?” Johnny asked with a sneer.

“I would shoot him.”

“Anyway,” Johnny said in a surly voice, “he got no information out of me. I was able to keep my mouth shut before some people here were born.”

This was Johnny at his old game of turning the discussion into a vote of confidence, and he’d done it too often for my liking.

“I’m afraid I agree with Tom Harrison, Johnny,” I said mildly.

“Then you should take the job yourself,” said Johnny, leaving it to be understood what would happen if I did.

“I don’t want to make a personal matter of it, Johnny,” I said, keeping my temper. “This is something that concerns us all.”

“And I do want to make a personal matter of it,” said Harrison. “Damn it, we’re only wasting our time. We’ll only be wasting our time till we learn to keep our equipment safe. I say Larry should take the job.”

So that was how, at the age of seventeen, I came to be Brigade Quartermaster, and, though it may sound like self-praise, they never had a better. Mick Ryan, even if he was from Carlow, was a tower of strength to me. He was a tall, handsome, reckless devil who worked on the railway, and the pair of us made a grand team because he was always making me do things that ordinarily I’d have been too shy to do, while I stopped him doing things he would have done when his imagination began to run away with him, which it frequently did. In the evenings we went into pubs on the quays, talking to sailors and giving assumed names. When we began, we had only one Smith and Wesson pistol, belonging to Mick’s elder brother who was in the British Army, and even for this we had only Thomson gun ammunition, but within six months we were getting guns from Hamburg and Lisbon and packing them away in a dump we had constructed on the hill behind the church. Mick and I had dug out the dump ourselves and propped it with railway sleepers. We even put an old bed in it, so that we could sleep there—not that I ever did, but Mick was a bit of a night-bird.

By this time the police began to realize that it wasn’t old Johnny Forrestal they had to deal with, and panicked. Dwyer, the superintendent, called the detectives together and warned them that there would be sackings if something wasn’t done. They did their best, but it wasn’t very good. You could see somebody had tipped them off about me, for day and night my house and Mick’s were watched by flatties with bikes, and we made a new game of giving them the slip.

To tell the God’s truth, I was a bit flattered by all this attention. It was the first time anyone had taken me seriously. At first Father couldn’t believe it, and after that he was stunned. For hours he stood behind the curtains in the front room, watching the detective, and sometimes getting mad with the detective and sometimes with me. He discovered that the detective’s wife kept chickens, so he dropped poisoned bread in her garden one night. At the same time, he tried to make me stay in, but, with the best will in the world, no Brigade Quartermaster with an ounce of self-respect could let himself be locked in at ten. Father locked me out, but behind his back Mother left the window open, so I got in that way. Then he secured the window, but I got over the back wall in full view of the neighbours, and after that he contented himself with muttering prophecies to himself about what was going to happen me.

“They think they’re cleverer than their fathers, but they’ll be taught. Mark my words! The rope will teach him. Then they’ll remember their fathers’ advice.”

I made it a point that no one should know the whereabouts of the dump except Mick, Harrison, and myself. Mick had even been against Harrison’s knowing, but, seeing that only for Harrison there would be no dump at all, I thought this was carrying secrecy too far. Besides, I knew Mick was prejudiced against Harrison for reasons that had nothing to do with the organization. In his own way, Mick was as bad as Father. It was one of the main drawbacks of the organization—private quarrels—and I was always begging Mick to keep out of them and think only of principles, but he couldn’t. Mick hadn’t a principle in his head. He liked or hated people and that was all there was to it.

Now, his reason for hating Harrison was this. Harrison was married to the sister of Mick’s friend Joe Ward. Joe was also a member of the organization, and as decent a poor devil as ever drew breath, only he was most unfortunate. He had married a flighty woman who’d borne him four kids but omitted to make a proper home for them because the horses took up all her spare time. Between illness and debt, poor Joe was half distracted. Mick, being a single man and very open-handed, was always helping Joe along, but Harrison—his brother-in-law—would never do anything for him. This cut poor Joe to the heart because he was an emotional man, always laughing or crying; he dearly loved his sister, and when she married Harrison he had given them a magnificent clock as a wedding present, something he could badly afford.

Now, I didn’t doubt that for a moment, but I could also see Harrison’s point of view. “That was always my trouble. As a reasonable man, I could always see everyone’s point of view. After all, Harrison was a married man, too, with a kid of his own, and he wasn’t earning so much in the grocery shop that he could afford to be generous on Mick’s scale. And, for the sake of the organization, I tried to keep the peace between them. I praised Mick to Harrison and Harrison to Mick, and any little admission I could wring out of one in favour of the other I magnified and passed on. It was all for the cause. I was a conscientious officer, even if I was only seventeen, and in those days I was innocent enough to believe that this was all that was needed to keep Ireland united.

And that was where the ferryboat left me. It began harmlessly enough one day when Joe Ward discovered that his wife had been to a moneylender and borrowed seven pounds. To poor Joe, weighed down with troubles, this seemed like the end of the world. He was never what you’d call a well-balanced man, and for a while he was probably a little off his head. Instead of going to his sister, who might have raised a few shillings for him unknown to her husband, or to Mick, who would have borrowed the money himself to help him, he went straight to the pub where Harrison worked. In spite of what happened afterwards, I want to be quite fair about this. Though Mick called Harrison a mean bastard, my own impression of him was that he wasn’t a bad chap really, and that, given time to get used to the idea, he might have done something substantial for Joe. I understood his position. In his place I might have taken the cautious line myself. After all, where was this thing going to end?

“Begor, Joe,” he said with an air of great distress, “if I had it, you’d be welcome, but the Way it is with me, I haven’t.”

“I’m sorry for your troubles, poor man,” said Joe and walked out. Of course, Harrison was leaping. After all, he was only playing for time, and while it’s bad enough to be asked for money, it’s a hard thing to be insulted when you don’t produce it at once. I sympathized with Harrison. As I say, the only excuse I could see for Joe was that he was probably a little bit off his head. I saw his point of view, too, of course. That’s the worst of being a fair-minded man.

Next evening, when I was pushing my bicycle back up Summerhill from work, whom did I see but Harrison, coming down towards me, looking very serious. He barely saluted me.

“Nothing wrong, Tom?” I asked,

“I’m afraid so,” he said stiffly, and made to go by me.

“Nothing to do with the organization, Tom?” I asked, turning the bike and going back down the hill with him. Of course, it was the organization that was on my mind.

“Oh, nothing,” he said in the same tone. “A purely private matter.” As much as to say I could mind my own blooming business, but I didn’t take offence. I could see the man was upset. “Larceny!” he said then, not to waste a good audience. “My house broken into and looted while I was at work. Nothing to do with the organization, of course,”

“For God’s sake, Tom!” I said with real sympathy. “Was much taken?”

“Oh, only a clock,” he snapped, and then, in case I mightn’t think he had justification enough: “A valuable clock.”

The word struck a familiar chord, but for a few minutes I was at a loss. Then I suddenly remembered where I’d heard of that clock before.

“That wouldn’t be the clock Joe Ward gave you, Tom?” I asked.

“It would,” he said, stopping to give me a suspicious glance. “How do you know about it?”

“Oh, only that Mick Ryan said something about it,” I replied in confusion.

“Whoever gave it, the clock is my property now,” said Harrison, moving on.

“And what are you going to do?” I asked.

“I’m going to put the police on him,” Harrison said defiantly, and I knew by his truculent tone that it was something he hadn’t decided on without a struggle. To us, of course, the civil police were never anything but enemy spies. It gave me a hasty turn. Besides, I was tired and was beginning to feel that to keep our fellows together would take more than compliments.

“On who, Tom?” I asked.

“Who do you think?” he demanded in the same tone. “Ward, of course. It’s about time somebody did something.”

Now, to tell the truth, I hadn’t been thinking of anyone in particular, and when he mentioned Joe I thought with a start of the misery of his life and the money his wife had borrowed, and felt myself getting red.

“Oh, was it he took it?” I asked in embarrassment.

“He walked into the house and took it from under my wife’s eyes,” said Harrison.

“And you’re going to put the—enemy police on him?” I asked weakly.

“Who else is there?” he asked hotly.

“Well,” I said, “of course, I was thinking of the organization.”

“And while I was waiting for the organization to do something, my clock would be sold.”

“Well, of course, there is that danger,” I said. “I’m not criticizing. I was only thinking what effect it would have on young fellows in the organization—an officer going to the enemy to complain on another member.”

“But damn it, man,” he said angrily, “if someone broke into your house tonight and stole valuable property, wouldn’t you do the same?”

“If I had any property, and the man was a common thief, I dare say I would,” I admitted.

“There’s nothing uncommon about Ward, only his impudence,” said Harrison, “Now, it’s all very well to talk, Larry,” he went on in a more reasonable tone, “and you and I are in general agreement about most things, but, whatever government you have, you must protect private property.”

“Oh, I’m not denying that, Tom,” I said, making the best I could of an argument that wasn’t really relevant to me yet, “but I don’t think you’re being fair on poor Joe. I don’t really, Tom. My own impression is—and I said the same to Mick Ryan before it happened—the man wasn’t right in his head.”

“He was sufficiently right in the head to come to my house while I was at work,” retorted Harrison. “’Twas no madman did that.”

So we went on together, past the church at the foot of the hill and across the New Bridge, with me still arguing for the sake of appearances. It was the organization I was thinking of, the whole blooming time, and the scandal and disagreements that were bound to follow, but nothing was further from Harrison’s mind. He hadn’t a Principle in his head any more than Father or Mick. All he could think of was his blooming old clock. I knew if he didn’t do something about it he wouldn’t sleep, only lying awake, noticing the silence, and mourning for his clock like somebody who’d died on him. God, I felt desperate! It was a spring evening, coming on to dusk, and the metal bridges and the back streets full of old warehouses gave me the creeps. There seemed no chance for idealism, the way things were.

We crossed the second bridge, and I remained outside on the quay while Harrison went into the barrack. It was a big red-brick building with a few lights burning. I wondered whether I ought to be there at all, whether, as an officer, I should countenance Harrison’s behaviour without leaving myself open to a charge of fraternizing with the enemy. I decided that the man was upset. It was the same thing with Mick. He’d get in a bake, and do something he shouldn’t, and then regret it after. It all came of a want of principle. Besides, I suppose I was curious to see what would happen.

Nothing happened for a long time, and I began to wonder whether Dwyer, the superintendent, hadn’t taken the chance of locking him up and whether it was safe for me to stay. Dwyer was probably in because there was a light in his office, which I recognized because I had plans of the whole building against the day I had to lead the attack on it. I saw a figure come to the window and look up and down the river. Then two detectives came out the front door, and I grabbed my bicycle, intending to skip. But they ignored me. They simply got into a car and started to drive off up the quay. Then I took the notion to follow and see where they were going. I knew they couldn’t make much speed through the city streets, and it was a real pleasure to tail them for a change.

It didn’t take me long to recognize where they were going. They crossed town, emerged on a quay on the north side, and stopped outside a big tenement house. There were no curtains in the windows, and no lights but candles. A couple of women were leaning out of the windows, and they began to pretend the police were coming to call on them—not in the way of duty, of course. Some of the things those women said were shocking. The police let ox hot to notice and walked straight into the hallway as if they knew where they were going. In no time a crowd gathered on the quay. I knew it was where Joe Ward lived, and I felt very sorry for him. It seemed to me the poor devil had enough to bear.

When the detectives came out, each of them was carrying a clock. I wasn’t surprised when Joe himself came after them. He was a thin, consumptive-looking chap with glasses and a mad air. He stood on the steps of the house and addressed the police and the crowd. Like all emotional men, he laughed as if he was crying, and cried as if he was laughing, and only that I knew him so well I’d have laughed at him too.

“There’s the great Irish patriot for you!” he bawled, waving one arm wildly. “There’s the great Republican leader, General Harrison, putting the Free State police on his own brother-in-law, and all over an old clock. A clock I gave him for his wedding! There’s the great patriot, a fellow that wouldn’t lend you a bob if the poor children died of hunger at his feet. God help Ireland! God help the poor! Give me back my own clock anyway, ye robbers of hell! Give me back the clock I bought with my own few ha’pence.”

They ignored him and simply drove off. This time they got well away from me, and I only arrived back at the barracks in time to see Harrison coming out. He had his own clock under his arm, wrapped up, and you could see it was a great ease to him. He wasn’t the same man at all. That is the only way I can describe it. He was bubbling with good nature to myself and the whole world, and nothing would do him but to unwrap the clock for me to see it. It was a good clock, all right.

“Ah, it may teach Joe Ward some sense,” he said, but there was no indignation left in him. There was nothing there now but the man’s basic good humour. “He ought to know better than to think he can get away with things like that.”

With the picture of Joe fresh in my mind, I didn’t feel much like discussing that. I had an impression that poor Joe would get away with damn little, in this world or the next. In a funny way I began to share Mick Ryan’s view of Harrison. It was against my principles, but I simply couldn’t help it.

“Who did you see?” I asked.

“You’d never believe,” said Harrison with a chuckle.

“Not Dwyer, surely?” I asked—I could scarcely believe that Dwyer would stoop to concern himself over a clock.

“Oh, one of the detectives recognized me, of course,” said Harrison. “Dwyer came down to me himself and brought me up to his room to wait. He took it more seriously than I did actually, but I suppose he had to. Of course, it’s his job. He told them to bring in every clock in the place. They brought two.”

“I saw them,” I said, feeling a bit sick.

“Did you follow them?” he asked eagerly. “What happened?”

“Oh, Joe came out and made a bit of a scene. There was a crowd.”

“Was he mad?”

“He was a bit upset. I suppose you can hardly blame him.”

Harrison frowned and shook his head.

“I do not blame him, Larry,” he said gravely. “I’m really sorry for that poor wretch. We all told him what that woman was like, but he wouldn’t believe us. God knows, if there was anything I could do for him, I’d do it.”

The benevolence that clock produced in Harrison was astonishing. He was so full of good nature that he never even noticed I didn’t share it with him.

“Tell us about Dwyer,” I said, thinking of the organization again.

“Oh, he stood me a drink, man,” said Harrison, beginning to chuckle again. “You should have come in.”

“I saw the light in his office.”

“Oh, he saw you! There are no flies on Dwyer.”

“He didn’t ask any questions?”

“He never stopped.”

“About me?”

“About you and Ryan and the dump. Oh, naturally, pretending to have a great admiration for us all! He was like that himself when he was younger. My eye! He even pretended he knew where the dump was—all lies, of course. Stand in here for a minute!”

He whispered the last words, glancing hastily back over his shoulder to see if we were being followed, and then pulled me into a dark archway.

“Do you know that he offered me money to say where it was?” he whispered fiercely. “Big money! A hundred pounds down! He said the organization was riddled with spies, that every gun Johnny Forrestal bought was given away twice over inside twenty-four hours. They meet him after midnight, wherever his den in town is.”

That finished me. Of course, I had always suspected that there was a spy in the organization, but it was a different thing to be sure of it. For the future I should feel secure with nobody. All the same I wasn’t feeling so kindly to Harrison as to look for sympathy from him.

“I was afraid of that,” I said, “I guessed Johnny talked too much. But Dwyer isn’t getting the information now.”

“That’s what I told him,” said Harrison. “He said he was, but that’s only bluff. They say things like that to rattle you. Otherwise, why would he offer to bribe me? ... But imagine it!” he went on bitterly. “Fellows you’d be drinking with one minute stealing down there after dark to swear your life away. God, what sort of conscience can they have?”

“If they have a conscience,” I said wearily. In the badly lit streets, supperless, cold, and tired, I was beginning to think there was no chance at all for idealism, and wondered if there mightn’t be something in Father’s views.

“And yet Dwyer said there was nothing unusual about them,” said Harrison, “Ordinary fellows like ourselves—that’s what he called them. According to him, they only do it because they’re in a jam—women or something like that.”

“They couldn’t do without women, I suppose,” I said. Naturally, at seventeen they were the last things I wanted.

“Oh, I’m not defending them, of course,” Harrison said hastily. “I’m only repeating what the man said.”

Not all he said, though, even if I didn’t recognize it until three weeks later when the dump was raided and everything in it seized, including Mick Ryan with all the Brigade papers on him. It was pure fluke that I wasn’t there myself. Mick, who was a resourceful chap, got rid of the papers by distributing cigarettes for an hour to the detectives and lighting them with letters he pulled from his pockets. Only for that, I’d have been in gaol with him. From the barrack he slipped me out a note that read “Shoot Harrison.”

I didn’t shoot Harrison. If it had only been about anything else but a clock! I was sick at the loss of my priceless dump, all the lovely rifles and automatics of the latest makes, smuggled in from all over Europe; and the one time I went to Mass at the church near it, the feeling of tears choked me. I simply hadn’t the heart to start again. Father was very cocked up about Mick’s arrest. It confirmed his old impression that there was something unstable about Carlow people, and the first night the detective failed to show up, he handed me five shillings and told me I could stay out for the future till eleven—or even a bit later. He didn’t want to be severe, and, of course, he’d been a bit wild himself when he was my age. I was so touched that I told him the whole story, and, to my great astonishment, he flew into a wild rage and wanted to know why we didn’t bomb Harrison’s house. That night he took a pot of white paint and painted the words “Spies Beware” on Harrison’s front door. Conservatives are very queer that way, I find.

I took the five bob, but I was home by half ten. I’d decided to go to the School of Commerce. I was beginning to see that there was no future in revolutions.


Every old bachelor has a love story in him if only you can get at it. This is usually not very easy because a bachelor is a man who does not lightly trust his neighbour, and by the time you can identify him as what he is, the cause of it all has been elevated into a morality, almost a divinity, something the old bachelor himself is afraid to look at for fear it might turn out to be stuffed. And woe betide you if he does confide in you, and you, by word or look, suggest that you do think it is stuffed, for that is how my own: friendship with Archie Boland ended.

Archie was a senior Civil Servant, a big man with a broad red face and hot blue eyes and a crust of worldliness and bad temper overlaying a nature that had a lot of sweetness and fun in it. He was a man who affected to believe the worst of everyone, but he saw that I appreciated his true character, and suppressed his bad temper most of the time, except when I trespassed on his taboos, religious and political. For years the two of us walked home together. We both loved walking, and we both liked to drop in at a certain pub by the canal bridge where they kept good draught stout. Whenever we encountered some woman we knew, Archie was very polite and even effusive in an old-fashioned way, raising his hat with a great sweeping gesture and bowing low over the hand he held as if he were about to kiss it, which I swear he would have done on the least encouragement. But afterwards he would look at me under his eyebrows with a knowing smile and tell me things about their home life which the ladies would have been very distressed to hear, and this, in turn, would give place to a sly look that implied that I was drawing my own conclusions from what he said, which I wasn’t, not usually.

“I know what you think, Delaney,” he said one evening, carefully putting down the two pints and lowering himself heavily into his seat. “You think I’m a bad case of sour grapes.”

“I wasn’t thinking anything at all,” I said.

“Well, maybe you mightn’t be too far wrong at that,” he conceded, more to his own view of me than to anything else. “But it’s not only that, Delaney. There are other things involved. You see, when I was your age I had an experience that upset me a lot. It upset me so much that I felt I could never go through the same sort of thing again. Maybe I was too idealistic.”

I never heard a bachelor yet who didn’t take a modest pride in his own idealism. And there in the far corner of that pub by the canal bank on a rainy autumn evening, Archie took the plunge and told me the story of the experience that had turned him against women, and I put my foot in it and turned him against me as well. Ah, well, I was younger then!

You see, in his earlier days Archie had been a great cyclist. Twice he had cycled round Ireland, and had made any amount of long trips to see various historic spots, battlefields, castles, and cathedrals. He was no scholar, but he liked to know what he was talking about and had no objection to showing other people that they didn’t. “I suppose you know that place you were talking about, James?” he would purr when someone in the office stuck his neck out. “Because if you don’t, I do.” No wonder he wasn’t too popular with the staff.

One evening Archie arrived in a remote Connemara village where four women teachers were staying, studying Irish, and after supper he got to chatting with them, and they all went for a walk along the strand. One was a young woman called Madge Hale, a slight girl with blue-grey eyes, a long clear-skinned face, and a rather breathless manner, and Archie did not take long to see that she was altogether more intelligent than the others, and that whenever he said something interesting her whole face lit up like a child’s.

The teachers were going on a trip to the Aran Islands next day, and Archie offered to join them. They visited the tiny oratories, and, as none of the teachers knew anything about these, Archie in his well-informed way described the origin of the island monasteries and the life of the hermit monks in the early mediaeval period. Madge was fascinated and kept asking questions about what the churches had looked like, and Archie, flattered into doing the dog, suggested that she should accompany him on a bicycle trip the following day, and see some of the later monasteries. She agreed at once enthusiastically. The other women laughed, and Madge laughed, too, though it was clear that she didn’t really know what they were laughing about.

Now, this was one sure way to Archie’s heart. He disliked women because they were always going to parties or the pictures, painting their faces, and taking aspirin in cartloads. There was altogether too much nonsense about them for a man of his grave taste, but at last he had met a girl who seemed absolutely devoid of nonsense and was serious through and through.

Their trip next day was a great success, and he was able to point out to her the development of the monastery church through the mediaeval abbey to the preaching church. That evening when they returned, he suggested, half in jest, that she should borrow the bicycle and come back to Dublin with him. This time she hesitated, but it was only for a few moments as she considered the practical end of it, and then her face lit up in the same eager way, and she said in her piping voice: “If you think I won’t be in your way, Archie.”

Now, she was in Archie’s way, and very much in his way, for he was a man of old-fashioned ideas, who had never in his life allowed a woman he was accompanying to pay for as much as a cup of tea for herself, who felt that to have to excuse himself on the road was little short of obscene, and who endured the agonies of the damned when he had to go to a country hotel with a pretty girl at the end of the day. When he went to the reception desk he felt sure that everyone believed unmentionable things about him and he had an overwhelming compulsion to lecture them on the subject of their evil imaginations. But for this, too, he admired her—by this time any other girl would have been wondering what her parents and friends would say if they knew she was spending the night in a country hotel with a man, but the very idea of scandal never seemed to enter Madge’s head. And it was not, as he shrewdly divined, that she was either fast or flighty. It was merely that it had never occurred to her that anything she and Archie might do could involve any culpability.

That settled Archies business. He knew she was the only woman in the world for him, though to tell her this when she was more or less at the mercy of his solicitations was something that did not even cross his mind. He had a sort of old-fashioned chivalry that set him above the commoner temptations. They cycled south through Clare to Limerick, and stood on the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic; the weather held fine, and they drifted through the flat apple country to Cashel and drank beer and lemonade in country pubs, and finally pushed over the hills to Kilkenny, where they spent their last evening wandering in the dusk under the ruins of mediaeval abbeys and inns, studying effigies and blazons; and never once did Archie as much as hold her hand or speak to her of love. He scowled as he told me this, as though I might mock him from the depths of my own small experience, but I had no inclination to do so, for I knew the enchantment of the senses that people of chaste and lonely character feel in one another’s company and that haunts the memory more than all the passionate embraces of lovers.

When they separated outside Madge’s lodgings in Rathmines late one summer evening, Archie felt that he was at last free to speak. He held her hand as he said good-bye.

“I think we had quite good fun, don’t you?” he asked.

“Oh, yes, Archie,” she cried, laughing in her delight. “It was wonderful. It was the happiest holiday I ever spent.”

He was so encouraged by this that he deliberately retained hold of her hand.

“That’s the way I feel,” he said, beginning to blush. “I didn’t want to say it before because I thought it might embarrass you. I never met a woman like you before, and if you ever felt you wanted to marry me I’d be honoured.”

For a moment, while her face darkened as though all the delight had drained from it, he thought that he had embarrassed her even now.

“Are you sure, Archie?” she asked nervously. “Because you don’t know me very long, remember. A few days like that is not enough to know a person.”

“That’s a thing that soon rights itself,’ Archie said oracularly.

“And, besides, we’d have to wait a long while,” she added. “My people aren’t very well off; I have two brothers younger than me, and I have to help them.”

“And I have a long way to go before I get anywhere in the Civil Service,” he replied good-humouredly, “so it may be quite a while before I can do what I like, as well. But those are things that also right themselves, and they right themselves all the sooner if you do them with an object in mind. I know my own character pretty well,” he added thoughtfully, “and I know it would be a help to me. And I’m not a man to change his mind.”

She still seemed to hesitate; for a second or two he had a strong impression that she was about to refuse him, but then she thought better of it. Her face cleared in the old way, and she gave her nervous laugh.

“Very well, Archie,” she said. “If you really want me, you’ll find me willing.”

“I want you, Madge,” he replied gravely, and then he raised his hat and pushed his bicycle away while she stood outside her gate in the shadow of the trees and waved. I admired that gesture even as he described it. It was so like Archie, and I could see that such a plighting of his word would haunt him as no passionate love-making would ever do. It was magnificent, but it was not love. People should be jolted out of themselves at times like those, and when they are not so jolted it frequently means, as it did with Archie, that the experience is only deferred till a less propitious time.

However, he was too innocent to know anything of that. To him the whole fantastic business of walking out with a girl was miracle enough in itself, like being dumped down in the middle of some ancient complex civilization whose language and customs he was unfamiliar with. He might have introduced her to history, but she introduced him to operas and concerts, and in no time he was developing prejudices about music as though it was something that had fired him from boyhood, for Archie was by nature a gospel-maker. Even when I knew him, he shook his head over my weakness for Wagner. Bach was the man, and somehow Bach at once ceased to be a pleasure and became a responsibility. It was part of the process of what he called “knowing his own mind.”

On fine Sundays in autumn they took their lunch and walked over the mountains to Enniskerry, or cycled down the Boyne Valley to Drogheda. Madge was a girl of very sweet disposition, so that they rarely had a falling-out, and even at the best of times this must have been an event in Archie’s life, for he had an irascible, quarrelsome, gospel-making streak. It was true that there were certain evenings and week-ends that she kept to herself to visit her old friends and an ailing aunt in Miltown, but these did not worry Archie, who believed that this was how a conscientious girl should be. As a man who knew his own mind, he liked to feel that the girl he was going to marry was the same.

Oh, of course it was too perfect! Of course, an older hand would have waited to see what price he was expected to pay for all those perfections, but Archie was an idealist, which meant that he thought Nature was in the job solely for his benefit. Then one day Nature gave him a rap on the knuckles just to show him that the boot was on the other foot.

In town he happened to run into one of the group of teachers he had met in Connemara during the holidays and invited her politely to join him in a cup of tea. Archie favoured one of those long mahogany teahouses in Grafton Street where daylight never enters; he was a creature of habit, and this was where he had eaten his first lunch in Dublin, and there he would continue to go till some minor cataclysm like marriage changed the current of his life.

“I hear you’re seeing a lot of Madge,” said the teacher gaily as if this were a guilty secret between herself and Archie.

“Oh, yes,” said Archie as if it weren’t. “And with God’s help I expect to be doing the same for the rest of my life.”

“So I heard,” she said joyously. “I’m delighted for Madge, of course. But I wonder whatever happened that other fellow she was engaged to?”

“Why?” asked Archie, who knew well that she was only pecking at him and refused to let her see how sick he felt. “Was she engaged to another fellow?”

“Ah, surely she must have told you that!” the teacher cried with mock consternation. “I hope I’m not saying anything wrong,” she added piously. “Maybe she wasn’t engaged to him after all. He was a teacher, too, I believe —somewhere on the South Side. What was his name?”

“I’ll ask her and let you know,” replied Archie blandly. He was giving nothing away till he had had more time to think of it.

All the same he was in a very ugly temper. Archie was one of those people who believe in being candid with everybody, even at the risk of unpleasantness, which might be another reason that he had so few friends when I knew him. He might, for instance, hear from somebody called Mahony that another man called Devins had said he was inclined to be offensive in argument, which was a reasonable enough point of view, but Archie would feel it his duty to go straight to Devins and ask him to repeat the remark, which, of course, would leave Devins wondering who it was that had been trying to make mischief for him, so he would ask a third man whether Mahony was the tell-tale, and a fourth would repeat the question to Mahony, till eventually, I declare to God, Archie’s inquisition would have the whole office by the ears.

Archie, of course, had felt compelled to confess to Madge every sin of his past life, which, from the point of view of this narrative, was quite without importance, and he naturally assumed when Madge did not do the same that it could only be because she had nothing to confess. He realized now that this was a grave mistake since everyone has something to confess, particularly women.

He could have done with her what he would have done with someone in the office and asked her what she meant, but this did not seem sufficient punishment to him. Though he didn’t recognize it, Archie’s pride was deeply hurt. He regarded Madge’s silence as equivalent to an insult, and in the matter of insults he felt it was his duty to give as good as he got. So, instead of having it out with her as another man might have done, he proceeded to make her life a misery. He continued to walk out with her as though nothing had happened, and then brought the conversation gently round to various domestic disasters which had or had not occurred in his own experience and all of which had been caused solely by someone’s deceit. This was intended to scare the wits out of Madge, as no doubt it did. Then he called up a friend of his in the Department of Education and asked him out for a drink.

“The Hale girl?” his friend said thoughtfully. “Isn’t she engaged to that assistant in St. Joseph’s? Wheeler, a chap with a lame leg? I think I heard that. Why? You’re not keen on her yourself by any chance?”

“Ah, you know me,” Archie replied with a fat smile.

“Why then, indeed, I do not,” said his friend. “But if you mean business you’d want to hurry up. Now you mention it, they were only supposed to be waiting till he got a headship somewhere. He’s a nice fellow, I believe.”

“So I’m told,” said Archie, and went away with a smile on his lips and murder in his heart. Those forthright men of the world are the very devil once they get a bee in their bonnets. Othello had nothing on a Civil Servant of twelve years’ standing and a blameless reputation. So he still continued to see Madge, though now his method of tormenting her was to press her about those odd evenings she was supposed to spend with her aunt or those old friends she spoke of. He realized that some of those evenings were probably really spent as innocently as she described them, since she showed neither embarrassment nor distress at his probing and gibing. It was the others that caused her to wince, and those were the ones he concentrated on.

“I could meet you when you came out, you know,” he said in a benign tone that almost glowed.

“But I don’t know when I’ll be out, Archie,” she replied, blushing and stammering.

“Ah, well, even if you didn’t get out until half past ten—and that would be late for a lady her age—it would still give us time for a little walk. That’s if the night was fine, of course. It’s all very well, doing your duty by old friends, but you don’t want to deny yourself every little pleasure.”

“I couldn’t promise anything, Archie, really I couldn’t, she said almost angrily, and Archie smiled to himself, the smug smile of the old inquisitor whose helpless victim has begun to give himself away.

The road where Madge lived was one of those broad Victorian roads you find scattered all over the hills at the south side of Dublin, with trees along the pavement and deep gardens leading to pairs of merchants’ houses, semi-detached and solidly built, with tall basements and high flights of steps. Next night, Archie was waiting at the corner of a side street in the shadow, feeling like a detective as he watched her house. He had been there only about ten minutes when she came out and tripped down the steps. When she emerged from the garden, she turned right up the hill, and Archie followed, guided more by the distinctive clack of her heels than by the glimpses he caught of her passing swiftly under a street lamp.

She reached the bus stop at the top of the road, and a man came up and spoke to her. He was a youngish man in a bright tweed coat, hatless and thin, dragging a lame leg. He took her arm, and they went off together in the direction of the Dodder bank. As they did, Archie heard her happy, eager, foolish laugh, and it sounded exactly as though she were laughing at him.

He was beside himself with misery. He had got what he had been seeking, which was full confirmation of the woman’s guilt, and now he had no idea what to do with it. To follow them and have it out on the river bank in the darkness was one possibility, but he realized that Wheeler —if this was Wheeler—probably knew as little of him as he had known of Wheeler, and that it would result only in general confusion. No, it was that abominable woman he would have to have it out with. He returned slowly to his post, turned into a public house just round the corner, and sat swallowing whiskey in silence until another customer unwittingly touched on one of his pet political taboos. Then he sprang to his feet, and, though no one had invited his opinion, he thundered for several minutes against people with slave minds, and stalked out with a virtuous feeling that his wrath had been entirely disinterested.

This time he had to wait for over half an hour in the damp and cold, and this did not improve his temper. Then he heard her footsteps, and guessed that the young man had left her at the same spot where they had met. It could, of course, have been the most innocent thing in the world, intended merely to deceive inquisitive people in her lodging house, but to Archie it seemed all guile and treachery. He crossed the road and stood under a tree beside the gate, so well concealed that she failed altogether to see him till he stepped out to meet her. Then she started back.

“Who’s that ?” she asked in a startled whisper, and then, after a look, added with what sounded like joy and was probably merely relief: “Oh, Archie, it’s you!” Then, as he stood there glowering at her, her tone changed again and he could detect the consternation as she asked:

“What are you doing here, Archie?”

“Waiting,” Archie replied in a voice as hollow as his heart felt.

“Waiting? But for what, Archie?”

“An explanation.”

“Oh, Archie!” she exclaimed with childish petulance. “Don’t talk to me that way!”

“And what way would you like me to talk to you?” he retorted, letting fly with his anger. “I suppose you’re going to tell me now you were at your aunt’s?”

“No, Archie,” she replied meekly. “I wasn’t. I was out with a friend.”

“A friend?” repeated Archie.

“Not a friend exactly either, Archie,” she added in distress.

“Not exactly,” Archie repeated with grim satisfaction. “With your fiancé, in fact?”

“That’s true, Archie,” she admitted. “I don’t deny that. You must let me explain.”

“The time for explanations is past,” Archie thundered magnificently, though the moment before he had been demanding one. “The time for explanations was three months ago. For three months and more, your whole life has been a living lie.”

This was a phrase Archie had thought up, entirely without assistance, drinking whiskey in the pub. He may have failed to notice that it was not entirely original. It was intended to draw blood, and it did.

“I wish you wouldn’t say things like that, Archie,” Madge said in an unsteady voice. “I know I didn’t tell you the whole truth, but I wasn’t trying to deceive you.”

“No, of course you weren’t trying,” said Archie. “You don’t need to try. What you ought to try some time is to tell the truth.”

“But I am telling the truth,” she said indignantly. “I’m not a liar, Archie, and I won’t have you saying it. I couldn’t help getting engaged to Pat. He asked me, and I couldn’t refuse him.”

“You couldn’t refuse him?”

“No. I told you you should let me explain. It happened before, and I won’t have it happen again.”

“What happened ?”

“Oh, it’s a long story, Archie. I once refused a boy at home in our own place and—he died.”

“He died?” Archie said incredulously.

“Well, he committed suicide. It was an awful thing to happen, but it wasn’t my fault. I was young and silly, and I didn’t know how dangerous it was. I thought it was just all a game, and I led him on and made fun of him. How could I know the way a boy would feel about things like that?”

“Hah!” Archie grunted uncertainly, feeling that as usual she had thought too quickly for him, and that all his beautiful anger accumulated over weeks would be wasted on some pointless argument. “And I suppose you felt you couldn’t refuse me either ?”

“Well, as a matter of fact, Archie,” she said apologetically, “that was the way I felt.”

“Good God!” exploded Archie.

“It’s true, Archie,” she said in a rush. “It wasn’t until weeks after that I got to like you really, the way I do now. I was hoping all that time we were together that you didn’t like me that way at all, and it came as a terrible blow to me, Archie. Because, as you see, I was sort of engaged already, and it’s not a situation you’d like to be in yourself, being engaged to two girls at the one time.”

“And I suppose you thought I’d commit suicide?” Archie asked incredulously.

“But I didn’t know, Archie. It wasn’t until afterwards that I really got to know you.”

“You didn’t know!” he said, choking with anger at the suggestion that he was a man of such weak and common- place stuff. “You didn’t know! Good God, the vanity and madness of it! And all this time you couldn’t tell me about the fellow you say committed suicide on account of you.”

“But how could I, Archie?” she asked despairingly. “It’s not the sort a thing a girl likes to think of, much less to talk about.”

“No,” he said, breathing deeply, “and so you’ll go through life, tricking and deceiving every honourable man that comes your way—all out of pure kindness of heart. That be damned for a yarn!”

“It’s not a yarn, Archie,” she cried hotly. “It’s true, and it never happened with anyone, only Pat and you, and one young fellow at home, but the last I heard of him he was walking out with another girl, and I dare say he’s over it by now. And Pat would have got over it the same if only you’d had patience.”

The picture of yet a third man engaged to his own fiancée was really too much for Archie, and he knew that he could never stand up to this little liar in argument.

“Madge,” he said broodingly, “I do not like to insult any woman to her face, least of all a woman I once respected, but I do not believe you. I can’t believe anything you say. You have behaved to me in a deceitful and dishonourable manner, and I can’t trust you any longer.”

Then he turned on his heel and walked heavily away, remembering how on this very spot, a few months before, he had turned away with his heart full of hope, and he realized that everything people said about women was true down to the last bitter gibe, and that never again would he trust one of them.

“That was the end of my attempts at getting married,” he finished grimly. “Of course, she wrote and gave me the names of two witnesses I could refer to if I didn’t believe her, but I couldn’t even be bothered replying.”

“Archie,” I asked in consternation, “you don’t mean that you really dropped her?”

“Dropped her?” he repeated, beginning to scowl. “I never spoke to the woman again, only to raise my hat to her whenever I met her on the street. I don’t even know what happened to her after, whether she married or not. I have some pride.”

“But, Archie,” I said despairingly, “suppose she was simply telling the truth?”

“And suppose she was?” he asked in a murderous tone.

Then I began to laugh. I couldn’t help it, though I saw it was making him mad. It was raining outside on the canal bank, and I wasn’t laughing at Archie so much as at myself. Because, for the first time, I found myself falling in love with a woman from the mere description of her, as they do in the old romances, and it was an extraordinary feeling, as though there existed somewhere some pure essence of womanhood that one could savour outside the body.

“But damn it, Archie,” I cried, “you said yourself she was a serious girl. All you’re telling me now is that she was a sweet one as well. It must have been hell for her, being engaged to two men in the same town and trying to keep both of them happy till the other fellow got tired of her and left her free to marry you.”

“Or free for a third man to come along and put her in the same position again,” said Archie with a sneer.

I must say I had not expected that one, and for a moment it stopped me dead. But there is no stopping a man who is in love with a shadow as I was then, and I was determined on finding justification for myself.

“But after all, Archie,” I said, “isn’t that precisely why you marry a woman like that? Can you imagine marrying one of them if the danger wasn’t there? Come, Archie, don’t you see that the whole business of the suicide is irrelevant? Every nice girl behaves exactly as though she had a real suicide in her past. That’s what makes her a nice girl. It’s not easy to defend it rationally, but that’s the way it is. Archie, I think you made a fool of yourself.”

“It’s not possible to defend it rationally or any other way,” Archie said with finality. “A woman like that is a woman without character. You might as well stick your head in a gas-oven and be done with it as marry a girl like that.”

And from that evening on, Archie dropped me. He even told his friends that I had no moral sense and would be bound to end up bad. Perhaps he was right, perhaps I shall end up as badly as he believed; but, on the other hand, perhaps I was only saying to him all the things he had been saying to himself for years in the bad hours coming on to morning, and he only wanted reassurance from me, not his own sentence on himself pronounced by another man’s lips. But, as I say, I was very young and didn’t understand. Nowadays I should sympathize and congratulate him on his narrow escape, and leave it to him to proclaim what an imbecile he was.


I disliked every single one of my sister’s fellows. Each of them seemed more despicable than the last. Anyone who believes in morbid psychology is welcome to make what he can of this. Maybe there was something morbid in it, but I can’t help feeling that Sue brought out all that was worst in them—because she was a girl of considerable intensity, and, for short spells at least, she did fling herself on young fellows in a way they weren’t used to and couldn’t understand. Whenever I ran into her walking out with one of them, she always looked like a restaurant cat, while he looked plain scared. “Go on! Hit me!” was what her look seemed to say, but his, translated, read: “I don’t really mind if she isn’t safe.” She was, of course: that was the joke. It would have been hard to find a more genuinely innocent and disinterested girl, and the things they read into her conduct were only the reflection of their own timidity.

She and I quarrelled all the time about them, but nothing I ever said made her change her views about the sort of juvenile delinquent she preferred, and my mother, a vicarious romantic of an old-fashioned sort, took her part. It reached such a pitch with me that if one of them even liked something I liked, a novel or a symphony, I at once began to see weaknesses in it. My dislikes were temporary like Sue’s passion, because within three months she had forgotten all about the young man and I had forgotten completely that I had ever—God forgive me!—described Mozart as a pansy.

Then, at last, she started walking out with a fellow could really respect. Terry Connolly was small, good looking, well educated, with fair hair and an eager manner. Though I saw that he liked me too, I did not build on it because I realized that he was the sort of chap who tries to see good in everybody. His father had died when he was young, leaving Terry fairly well off, but with a mother and sisters who got on his nerves, so, with characteristic independence, he had left home and taken a flat in town. He made no secret of the fact that he wanted a home of his own or that he hoped Sue would marry him. He made this plain to me the first evening we went for a walk together, and I was deeply impressed. | liked his honesty and his ability to make up his mind about what he wanted.

And for the first time I found myself in the position of wishing to tell one of Sue’s boys that I wondered if she was really good enough for him. It was a disturbing experience. I wanted to be frank with Terry, but at the same time not be disloyal to Sue. Of course, I had to concede that she had her good points. She was warm-hearted and generous, and intelligent so far as a girl can be who has never read anything but what she found in the john and never has the faintest intention of doing so, Besides, she was a first-rate cook and dressmaker when the fancy took her, which was usually at the last possible moment before a dinner or a dance. But, at the same time I had to make it clear that she wasn’t steady. She took violent likes and dislikes; she was always on top of the world or in the depths of despair, and she kept poor Mother trailing valiantly after her, up hill and down dale. On the whole, I was probably more unfair to Sue than to Terry, but it made no difference to him, because anything I said in her favour only confirmed some impression he already had, while everything I said against her positively enchanted him. He thought it delightful. He was the sort of man who prefers to see only the good side of people he likes, a point of view I can understand, though I am of a different type myself, and perhaps I sometimes go to the other extreme.

Anyway, that made no difference either. For some reason which I still don’t understand, Sue would have nothing to do with him, and after a few months she was insanely in love with a commercial traveller called Nick Ryan, who was easily the worst of all her errors of judgement. He was fat, he was smooth, he was knowing, with a sort of clerical obesity, unction, and infallibility; though mainly I remember that he admired Proust and soured me on one of my favourite authors for a whole year. Like Proust, he had a mother, and, like Proust, he never let you hear the end of her.

This time I really let Sue know what I thought of her, and she became furious.

“You’re only saying that about Nick because I wouldn’t marry your pal,” she said indignantly.

“Marry him!” I said scornfully. “As if an imbecile like you would have such luck!”

“I suppose you think he didn’t ask me?” she yelped.

“Terry?” I asked incredulously. (Of course, I should have known he would propose to her at once, but I still couldn’t imagine that anyone would refuse him.)

“Yes. Half a dozen times.”

“And you were fool enough to turn him down?”

“What a fool I was!”

“Sure when the child doesn’t love him!” Mother burst in with a pathetic defence of romantic love.

“Oh, so she doesn’t love him?” I said blandly. “She doesn’t love the one decent man she’s ever likely to meet, and she does love a rat like Ryan, and you talk about her likes and dislikes as if they were the law of God. You’re becoming as big an idiot as she is.”

“My goodness!” Mother exclaimed indignantly. “The way you go on! One would think you wanted to tie her up and hand her over like they did in the bad old days.”

“You’re sure they were so bad?” I asked with a sneer.

“Such airs!” muttered Mother, addressing herself to the wall as she did whenever she got mad. “That his own father wouldn’t say it to me.”

“Anyway, maybe Clare Noonan will have him,” Sue added maliciously. “He’s going out with her now.”

This was a double-edged thrust because Clare was a girl I had an eye on myself, and if circumstances had permitted me to think of getting married I might even have married her. She was Sue’s great friend, quiet and sweet and gay, and they made a very good couple, because Clare would do all the thoughtful things it would never cross Sue’s mind to do and then look up to Sue for not doing them. “I’ve no doubt she will,” I said with dignity. “Then maybe you’ll realize what a damn fool you were.”

I was wrong there, too, of course. After a few months, for all her quietness and sweetness, Clare turned Terry down flat. She said she didn’t love him. I was getting very tired of that word. He in his good-natured way still continued to see her and Sue, and whenever they were in difficulties for an odd man, they summoned him in the most lordly way in the world, and he was always there to oblige, always pleasant and always generous. It puzzled me, because, though I was very fond of them, they were neither of them outstanding catches. They were nice girls, pretty girls, good girls, but neither was brilliant or a beauty, and in a town like Cork, where marriageable men are scarce and exacting, they stood a remarkably good chance of not marrying at all. I studied him closely, particularly in their company, but damn the thing could I see wrong with him, and I ended by deciding that what Mother called “the bad old days,” when the choice of a husband was made for them by responsible relatives, were the best days that brainless girls had ever known.

One night at the house, this blew up into an open row. For some reason all Sue’s friends were there, and I was the only man. Sue and Clare were whispering over the end of the sofa at one another, and I knew by their malicious air that they were talking about Terry, who was now walking out with a third girl.

“Well,” I said challengingly, bringing the whole group to attention, “tell us what is wrong with Terry Connolly.”

“Tell him, Clare,” Sue said casually. “He won’t believe me.

“Why the hell would I believe anyone who goes out. with a fellow like Nick Ryan?” I asked contemptuously. This was intended to be mean, because I could see for myself that there were already feelings between Sue and Ryan. It was meaner than I intended, because I didn’t know until weeks after that there were also feelings between Sue and Clare on the same subject.

“Go on, Clare!” Sue said grimly. “Why don’t you tell him?”

Clare bent down and clutched her shins—a trick she had when she was thinking hard—and looked up at me with an innocent smile.

“I don’t know can I explain it, Jack,” she said timidly. “It’s just that Terry isn’t attractive somehow.”

“Really?” I said, smiling back at her, but unable even then to be cross with her, she was so sweet. “Is that all, Clare? But don’t you think we should define our terms? What do you mean by attractive?”

“Well, Jack, it’s not so easy to say, is it?” she went on in the same sweet trustful tone.

“He’s too blooming dull,” one of the girls, called Anne Doran, said in a loud voice, but I paid no particular attention to this, as Anne was the dumbest of all the decent girls that ever came out of Sunday’s Well.

“Dull?” I replied sweetly. “He’s the most intelligent man in Cork, but you find him dull! Don’t you think there’s something peculiar about that?” |

“Still, Jack,” Clare said, laughing up at me, “he is a wee bit dull, you know.”

“God’s sake, woman, the man would bore you stiff,” Sue said with her brassiest air.

“Ah, no, Sue, I wouldn’t go as far as that,” protested Clare in her gentle way. “You’re always taking things to the fair. I know what Jack means, and, of course, he’s right. Terry is nice, and he is intelligent, whatever he talks about.”

“Sure, what does that fellow want, only a wife?” bawled Anne.

“And what do you want, Anne?” I asked. “An establishment?”

“No, no, no, Jack,” Clare exclaimed, slapping at my feet to attract my attention. “Anne is right, too. You don’t want a man just to want you as a wife.”

“You mean you want him to want you as a mistress,” I said, “and then make him want to want you as his wife?”

“That’s right, Jack,” said Clare, who was completely incapable of enjoying a joke and an argument at the same time, and settled for the joke.

“I don’t think it is right, Clare,” said a big nun-like college girl with a governessy air that delighted me. “As I see it, you don’t like a man because you want to be his wife, but you become his wife because it’s the only way you have of showing that you like him.”

“Bunk, girl!” bawled Anne. “As if we didn’t all know it was plain sex!”

This produced such a chorus of dissent that I let them to it, and only realized after half an hour of it that they had left me as wise as I was before. All I could see was that here were half a dozen nice girls, all looking for husbands in a city where husbands were rare, and all avoiding like the plague the one man whom another man would have instantly chosen as the best husband for any of them; and the only reason they could offer seemed to be that the man was too much in earnest, made no secret of the fact that he wanted a wife, and always looked for the sort of girl who would make him a good one. It was beyond me. And obviously the thing was catching, because when Clare had shaken herself free of him Terry knocked round with a couple of other girls and got nowhere with them either. The man was a sort of pariah.

Meanwhile, to my further confusion, Clare, somehow or other, was supposed to be cutting the ground from under Sue in her romance with Ryan. Sue was dreadfully upset by it. She loved Ryan, but she liked Clare and the gentle flattery of Clare’s imitation. I knew things had come to a crisis when Sue told me that Clare was sly. Things she had said in confidence to Clare had been repeated back to Ryan, and now he would have nothing to do with her. I found it hard to believe that Clare could possibly be as designing as Sue made her out to be, particularly considering the dinginess of the object, and I was sure I was right after I had met Clare one night on the Western Road and heard her version. According to her, she had had nothing whatever to do with Ryan until he had come to her and told her that everything was over between him and Sue. She knew for a fact that he and Sue had had a terrible row about his mother, in which Sue had called his mother a designing old bitch, and that he had sworn that never, never, would he have anything more to do with a girl who spoke so disrespectfully of his sainted mother; and all the things that Sue was now accusing Clare of having repeated had really been said by herself to Ryan.

“You know Sue, Jack,” Clare said to me with eyes that were full of tears.

“Oh, I know Sue, Clare,” I replied, and I saw her home and comforted her the best way I could. I had no doubt whatever that she was telling the truth.

But there was no comforting Sue, and to all my attempts at making peace she listened in stony silence, her hands on her knees like some statue of a mourning goddess.

“You don’t understand women, Jack,” she said in a dead voice such as might have come from a statue. “You never did and you never will. Clare only wants to hold on to you in case Nick might let her down the way he let me down.”

“Thanks for suggesting I might do as a stop-gap,” I said. “I’m overwhelmed.”

“I’m telling you the truth, Jack,” said Sue with the same glassy stare. “You’ll never understand how treacherous women can be. You couldn’t believe a word that girl would tell you.”

So Clare in her treachery became engaged to Ryan, whom she afterwards married, and Sue took up with someone else, though it was quite clear that after her break-down, as she would probably have described it, Sue regarded herself as emotionally dead and incapable of ever loving again. When a girl like that decides that her heart has been broken, she usually makes her choice in the most arbitrary way. Why she should have chosen Ryan rather than any of the less objectionable specimens she had known I couldn’t imagine, unless Clare’s supposed ingratitude gave it something more of the flavour of universal tragedy.

And then one day Terry came back from Dublin, engaged. “So he found somebody at last,” Sue said with malicilous amusement. It was Sue who told me about it and it was clear that she got a sour pleasure from all the details. Terry had been in Dublin only for a few days for some sort of conference and had met the girl one night and proposed to her the next. Even I felt this was a bit precipitate and resigned myself to the worst.

When I ran into himself and Martha in Patrick Street a few weeks later, I wondered at my own innocence. She wasn’t merely nice, she was stunning—tall and thin and dark and intense with a deep, husky voice—and it was obvious, though not in an obvious way, that she thought the sun shone out of Terry. She didn’t gush; she didn’t even smile or flatter; she just turned on him with a wondering air, and Terry, with his good-natured manner and his pipe, was elevated into the realm of the supernatural.

She had come down to approve of the house that Terry was buying and to select the furniture for it. As he had to go back to his office, I escorted her to her hotel in King Street. For half the way we talked of nothing but furniture, and then she suddenly stopped dead and looked at me, clasping her hands.

“Jack,” she asked in a husky whisper, “do you think I’m in my right mind?”

“I hadn’t noticed anything unusual,” I replied lightly,never having seen technique like this before, if technique it was, which I doubted.

“I mean,” she said despairingly, touching her breast with one hand and with the other pointing back up the street, “am I mad or is that fellow as good as I think?”

“I always thought him pretty good,” I said with a smile.

“Pretty good!” she echoed, at a loss for words. “Oh, I know you don’t mean it that way, of course,” she added hastily. “I know you were always a good friend of his. But that’s why I wanted to talk to you. I didn’t think fellows like that existed. When I met him at a party, I nearly proposed to him myself. I said it to the girl that was with me. ‘I’m going to marry that man or enter a convent,’ I said, and she said: ‘You’ll have to work damn quick because he’s only here till Saturday.’ And I didn’t have to work at all! Do you believe in religion, Jack?” she added intensely.

“I never thought much about it,” I said, aghast at the way this extraordinary girl sprang from bough to bough.

“I don’t suppose you do. Terry doesn’t. He says he’s an atheist or something. What the hell do I care what he is? But I prayed that night as I never prayed before in my life. I said to God: ‘God, if you don’t get me that fellow I don’t want a fellow at all.’ And next night he proposed to me! On his knees! ‘Terry Connolly,’ I said, ‘not in your best trousers!’ And you say you don’t believe in religion!”

I hadn’t said anything of the kind, but that didn’t worry her. She clasped her hands again and seemed to rise on her toes with the ecstatic look of a saint in a stained-glass window, only she was looking at me instead of at the symbol of her martyrdom.

“Honest, Jack,” she said, “I don’t know am I on my head or my heels. When I think that after next month that fellow will be my property and I can do what I damn well please with him without anybody being able to say a word to me, I feel I’m going mad. Imagine it!” she said with her eyes dancing. “‘Stop drinking!’ ‘Come to bed!’ Imagine me talking to him like that. Sure, how the hell could I ever select furniture?”

When I left her, my own head was spinning. She and Terry were coming to my house next evening, and I looked forward to it with a certain grim satisfaction. Having been crowed over, I felt I had a crow coming, and I knew it would be a substantial one. At the same time I was surprised to find that Sue was also glad of their coming. She arranged the supper herself and spent an hour doing improbable things to a grey dress, and when the visitors arrived she answered the door herself, with her hair done up behind and a lace collar that made the grey dress into something new and strange. There was no doubt about Sue; she was always either a sloven, streaking about the house with her hair hanging, or else a picture. She was a picture that night. She and Martha disappeared up the stairs and left Terry and myself to the whiskey. Mother came in, and Terry had a long chat with her. He was very fond of her, and she would have been fond of him if only Sue had allowed her. When the girls came down again they were as thick as thieves, and Sue went out of her way to be angelic to Terry. What’s more, when Sue wanted to be angelic, she did make you think of an angel. She even began to remind Terry tenderly of places that he and she had visited together and make him promise to take Martha there as well. Her reminiscences were all entirely new to me, and I had never given her credit for so much observation and such poetic feeling. For a while I had the unpleasant impression that she was making a last-minute attempt to detach him from Martha, but that was an injustice to Sue. She was merely giving Martha the big build-up, and in the process was creating something for herself. Her outings with Terry were already beginning to sound desirable. As she was leaving, Martha gave me an embrace that almost made me blush.

“I love your sister, Jack,” she said in a husky whisper. “But why the hell didn’t she marry him?”

“Why didn’t she?” I replied, feebly enough, I knew, but with plenty of feeling.

“I suppose it was intended,” Martha said solemnly. Intended for her, I understood her to mean. I guessed it was.

When they had gone and Mother had gone to bed, Sue and I sat on over the fire in the dark, as we have so often through the years, old cronies, really devoted to one another, yet always at cross purposes. I was waiting for my crow, and she handed it to me, handsomely, I thought.

“God, isn’t she lovely?” she said with that generosity of sentiment that had so often maddened me when applied to young men. “Terry was born lucky.”

“Martha seems to think she was on the lucky side herself,” I said, and then felt sick because I saw Sue’s eyes fill with tears.

“Don’t rub it in, Jackie, there’s a good boy!” she said, bending over the match I held out to her while her eyes frowned into the cup of my palm.

“I didn’t mean to rub it in,” I said contritely. “But I was afraid after you and Clare that he mightn’t get a wife at all.”

“Poor old Clare!” Sue said in a would-be tough voice, blowing out a mouthful of smoke. “She’s the one that can really regret it.”

“Why?” I asked in surprise. “Have you been meeting Clare again?”

“Ah, of an odd time,” Sue said darkly. “She had tea with them in town yesterday. That’s how I knew about them.”

“Oh!” I said. It was gradually dawning on me that Terry’s engagement had brought Sue and Clare together in one of those ways that no man can ever comprehend, as though the fact of their both having rejected him had given them a sort of corporate interest in his future.

“Ah, it’s no use keeping up old quarrels,” said Sue. “I think you were probably right about that, and that it wasn’t Clare’s fault at all. Even if it was, the poor girl paid for it.”

“She certainly did,” I agreed. I was relieved. I knew now that Martha would have not one but half a dozen ex-sweethearts of Terry’s to march in her conquering train, and for Terry’s sake I was glad, because I felt he deserved it.

What I was not prepared for, and do not really understand even now, was Sue’s belated devotion to him. But that was how it happened. For the future when broken hearts were in fashion, Sue’s would be broken for him and not for Nick Ryan, and all the places where she had been bored by him would now be touched with romance and pathos. However, seeing that women of Sue’s kind must wear a broken heart for someone, I dare say it may as well be for one of the men they have given such a very bad time to.


When Shiela Hennessey married Jim Gaffney, a man twenty years older than herself, we were all pleased and rather surprised. By that time we were sure she wouldn’t marry at all. Her father had been a small builder, and one of the town jokers put it down to a hereditary distaste for contracts.

Besides, she had been keeping company with Matt Sheridan off and on for ten years. Matt, who was a quiet chap, let on to be interested only in the bit of money her father had left her, but he was really very much in love with her, and, to give her her due, she had been as much in love with him as time and other young men permitted. Shiela had to a pronounced extent the feminine weakness for second strings. Suddenly she would scare off the prospect of a long life with a pleasant, quiet man like Matt, and for six months or so would run a tearing line with some young fellow from the College. At first Matt resented this, but later he either grew resigned or developed the only technique for handling it, because he turned it all into a great joke, and called her young man of the moment “the spare wheel.”

And she really did get something out of those romances. A fellow called Magennis left her with a sound appreciation of Jane Austen and Bach, while another, Jack Mortimer who was unhappy at home, taught her to admire Henry James and persuaded her that she had a father fixation. But all of them were pretty unsuitable, and Matt in his quite determined way knew that if only he could sit tight and give no sign of jealousy, and encourage her to analyse their characters, she would eventually be bound to analyse herself out of love altogether, Until the next time, of course, but he had the hope that one of these days she would tire of her experiments and turn to him for good. At the same time, like the rest of us he realized that she might not marry at all. She was just the type of pious, well-courted, dissatified girl who as often as not ends up in a convent, but he was in no hurry and was prepared to take a chance.

And no doubt, unless she had done this, she would have married him eventually, only that she fell violently in love with Jim Gaffney. Jim was a man in his early fifties, small and stout and good natured. He was a widower with a grown son in Dublin, a little business on the Grand Parade, and a queer old house on Fair Hill, and as if these weren’t drawbacks enough for anyone, he was a man of no religious beliefs worth mentioning.

According to Sheila’s own story, which was as likely as not to be true, it was she who had to do all the courting and she who had to propose. It seemed that Jim had the Gaffney expectation of life worked out over three generations, and according to this he had only eight years to go, so that even when she did propose, he practically refused her.

“And what are you going to do with yourself when the eight years are up?” asked Matt when she broke the news to him.

“I haven’t even thought about it, Matt,” she said. “All I know is that eight years with Jim would be more to me than a lifetime with anyone else.”

“Oh, well,” he said with a bitter little smile, “I suppose you and I had better say good-bye.”

“But you will stay friends with me, Matt?” she asked anxiously.

“I will not, Shiela,” he replied with sudden violence. “The less I see of you from this onwards, the better pleased I’ll be.”

“You’re not really as bitter as that with me?” she said, in distress.

“I don’t know whether I am or not,” he said flatly. “I just don’t want to be mixed up with you after this. To tell you the truth, I don’t believe you give a damn for this fellow.”

“But I do, Matt. Why do you think I’m marrying him?”

“I think you’re marrying him because you’re hopelessly spoiled and neurotic, and ready for any silly adventure. What does your mother say to it?”

“Mummy will get used to Jim in time.”

“Excuse my saying so, Shiela, but your mother will do nothing of the sort. If your father was alive he’d beat the hell out of you before he let you do it. Is it marry someone of his own age? Talk sense! By the time you’re forty he’ll be a doddering old man. How can it end in anything but trouble?”

“Matt, I don’t care what it ends in. That’s my look-out. All I want is for you and Jim to be friends.”

It wasn’t so much that Shiela wanted them to be friends as that she wanted to preserve her claim on Matt. Women are like that. They hate to let one man go even when they have sworn life-long fidelity to another.

“I have no desire to be friends,” said Matt angrily. “I’ve wasted enough of my life on you as it is.”

“I wish you wouldn’t say things like that, Matt,” she said, beginning to sniff. “I know I’m queer. I suppose I’m not normal. Jack Mortimer always said I had a father fixation, but what can I do about that? I know you think I just strung you along all these years, but you’re wrong about that. I cared more for you than I did for all the others, and you know it. And if it wasn’t for Jim I’d marry you now sooner than anybody.”

“Oh, if it wasn’t for Jim,” he said mockingly. “If it wasn’t Jim it would be somebody else, and I’m tired of it. It’s all very well being patient, Shiela, but a man reaches the point where he has to protect himself, even if it hurts him or someone else. I’ve reached it.”

And she knew he had, and that she had no hope of holding on to him. A man who had stuck to her for all those years, and through all her vagaries, was not the sort to be summoned back by a whim. Parting with him was more of a wrench than she had anticipated.


She was radiantly happy through the brief honeymoon in France. She had always been fascinated and repelled by sex, and on their first night on the boat, Jim, instead of making violent love to her as a younger man might have done, sat on his bunk and made her listen to a long lecture on the subject, which she found more interesting than any love-making; and before they had been married a week, she was making the difficult adjustments for herself and without shock.

As a companion, Jim was excellent, because he was ready to be pleased with everything from urinals to cathedrals; he got as much pleasure from small things as big ones, and it put her in good humour just to see the way he enjoyed himself. He would sit in the sunlight outside a café, a bulky man with a red face and white hair, enthusing over his pastries and coffee and the spectacle of good-looking well-dressed people going by. Whenb his face clouded, it was only because he had remembered the folly of those who would not be happy when they could.

“And the whores at home won’t even learn to make a cup of coffee!” he would declare bitterly.

The only times he got mad were when Shiela, tall and tangential, moved too fast for him and he had to shuffle after her on his tender feet, swinging his arms close to his chest like a runner, or when she suddenly changed her mind at a crossing and left him in the middle of traffic to run forward and back, alarmed and swearing. In his rage he shouted and shook his fist at the taxi-drivers, and they shouted back at him without his even knowing what they said. At times like these he even shouted at Shiela, and she promised in the future to wait for him, but she didn’t. She was a born fidget, and when he left her somewhere to go to one of his beloved urinals, she drifted on to the nearest shop-window, and he lost her. Because all the French he knew came from the North Monastery, and French policemen only looked astonished when they heard it, and because he could never remember the name of his hotel, he was plunged in despair once a day.

It was a great relief to him to get back to Fair Hill, put his feet on the mantelpiece, and study in books the places he had been. Shiela, too, came to understand how good a marriage could be, with the inhibitions of a lifetime breaking down and new and more complicated ones taking their place. Their life was exceedingly quiet. Each evening Jim came puffing up the hill from town under a mountain of pullovers, scarves, and coats, saying that the damn height was getting too much for him, and that they’d have to—have to—have to get a house in town. Then he changed into old trousers and slippers, and lovingly poured himself a glass of whiskey, the whiskey care- fully measured against the light as it had been any time in twenty years. He knew to a drop the amount of spirits it needed to give him the feeling of a proper drink with- out slugging himself. Only a man with a steady hand could know how much was good for him. Moderation was the secret.

After supper he put his feet on the mantelpiece and told her the day’s news from town. About nine they had a cup of tea, and, if the night was fine, took a short ramble over the hill to get the view of the illuminated city below. As Shiela had learned, by this time Jim was usually at the top of his form, and it had become unsafe for anyone to suggest a house in town. Fair Hill had again become the perfect place of residence. The tension of the day completely gone, he had his bath and pottered about the stiff, ungainly old house in his pyjama trousers, scratching himself in elaborate patterns and roaring with laughter at his own jokes. |

“Who the hell said I had a father fixation?” Shiela asked indignantly. “I didn’t marry my father; I married my baby.”

All the same, she knew he wasn’t all that simple. Paddy, his son, lived in Dublin, and though Shiela suspected that he was somewhat of a disappointment to Jim, she could never get a really coherent account of him from Jim. It was the same with his first marriage. He scarcely spoke of it, except once in a while to say “Margaret used to think” or “a friend of Margaret’s”—bubbles rising to the surface of a pool whose depths she could not see, though she suspected the shadow that covered it. Nor was he much more informative about less intimate matters. If he disliked people, he disliked talking of them, and if he liked them, he only wished to say conventional things in their praise. As a student of Jane Austen and Henry James, Shiela wanted to plumb things to their depths, and sometimes it made her very angry that he would not argue with her. It suggested that he did not take her seriously.

“What is it about Kitty O’Malley that makes her get in with all those extraordinary men?” she would ask. “Is it a reaction against her mother?”

“Begor, I don’t know, girl,” he would say, staring at her over his reading glasses, as though he were a simple-minded man to whom such difficult problems never occurred.

“And I suppose you never bothered to ask yourself,” she would retort angrily. “You prefer to know people superficially.”

“Ah, well, I’m a superficial sort of chap,” he would reply with a benign smile, but she had the furious feeling that he was only laughing at her. Because once, when she did set out deliberately to madden him by sneering at his conventionality, he lost his temper and snapped: “Superficially is a damn good way to know people.” And this, as she realized, wasn’t what he meant either. She suspected that, whereas her plumbing of the depths meant that she was continually changing planes in her relations with people, moving rapidly from aloofness to intimacy and back, enthusing and suspecting, he considered only the characteristics that could be handled consistently on one plane. And though his approach was by its nature inaccurate, she had to admit that it worked, because in the plumbing business you never really knew where you were with anyone.

They had other causes of disagreement, though at first these were comic rather than alarming. Religion was one; it was something of an obsession with Shiela, but on the only occasion when she got him to Mass, he sighed, as he did when she took him to the pictures, and said mournfully as they left the church: “Those fellows haven’t changed in thirty years.” He seemed to think that religion should be subject to the general improvement in conditions of living. When she pressed him about what he thought improvements would be, it turned out that he thought churches should be used for lectures and concerts. She did not lose hope of converting him, even on his death-bed, though she realized that it would have to be effected entirely by the power of prayer, since precept and example were equally lost on him.

Besides this there was the subject of his health. In spite of his girth and weight, she felt sure he wasn’t strong. It seemed to her that the climb from the city each evening was becoming too much for him. He puffed too much, and in the mornings he had an uproarious cough, which he turned into a performance. She nagged him to give up the pipe and the whiskey or to see a doctor, but he would do neither. She surprised him by bringing the doctor to him during one of his bronchial attacks, and the doctor backed her up by advising him to give up smoking and drinking and to take things easily. Jim laughed as if this were a good joke, and went on behaving in precisely the same way. “Moderation is the secret,” he said as he measured his whiskey against the light. “The steady hand.” She was beginning to realize that he was a man of singular obstinacy, and to doubt whether, if he went on in this way, she would have him even for the eight years that the Gaffney expectation of life promised him.

Besides, he was untidy and casual about money, and this was one of the things about which Shiela was meticulous.

“It’s not that I want anything for myself,” she explained with conscious virtue. “It’s just that I’d like to know where I stand if anything happens to you. I’ll guarantee Paddy won’t be long finding out.”

“Oh, begor, you mightn’t be far wrong,” he said with a great guffaw.

Yet he did nothing about it. Beyond the fact that he hated to be in debt, he did not seem to care what happened to his money, and it lay there in the bank, doing no good to anyone. He had not made a will, and when she tried to get him to do so, he only passed it off with a joke.

Still refusing to be beaten, she invited his solicitor to supper, but, whatever understanding the two men had reached, they suddenly started to giggle hysterically when she broached the matter, and everything she said after that only threw them into fresh roars of laughter. Jim actually had tears in his eyes, and he was not a man who laughed inordinately on other occasions.

It was the same about insurance. Once more, it was not so much that she wanted provision for herself, but to a girl who always carried an identification card in her handbag in case of accidents it seemed the height of imprudence to have no insurance at all, even to pay for the funeral. Besides—and this was a matter that worried her somewhat—the Gaffney grave was full, and it was necessary to buy a new plot for herself and Jim. He made no protest at the identification card she had slipped in his wallet, instructing the finder of the body to communicate at once with herself, though she knew he produced this regularly in the shop for the entertainment of his friends, but he would have nothing to say to insurance. He was opposed to it, because money was continuously decreasing in value and insurance was merely paying good money for bad. He told her of a tombstone he had seen in a West Cork cemetery with an inscription that ran: “Here Lie the Remains of Elizabeth Martin who.” “Poor Elizabeth Martin Who!” he guffawed. “To make sure she had the right sort of tombstone, she had it made herself, and the whoors who came after her couldn’t make head or tail of the inscription. See what insurance does for you. ... Anyway, you little bitch,” he growled good-humouredly, “what the hell do you always want to be burying me for? Suppose I bury you for a change?”

“At any rate, if you do, you’ll find my affairs in order,” Shiela replied proudly.


She had sent postcards to Matt from France, hoping he might make things up, but when they returned to Cork she found that he had taken a job in the Midlands, and later it was reported that he was walking out with a shopkeeper’s daughter who had a substantial fortune. A year later she heard of his engagement and wrote to congratulate him. He replied promptly and without rancour to say that the report was premature, and that he was returning to a new job in Cork. Things had apparently not gone too well between himself and the shopkeeper’s daughter.

Shiela was overjoyed when at last he called on them in Fair Hill, the same old Matt, slow and staid, modest and intelligent and full of quiet irony. Obviously he was glad to be back in Cork, bad as it was. The Midlands were too tame, even for him.

Then Shiela had her great idea. Kitty O’Malley was the old friend of Jim’s whose chequered career Shiela had tried to analyse. She was a gentle girl with an extraordinary ability for getting herself entangled with unsuitable men. There had already been a married man, who had not liked to let her know he was married for fear of hurting her feelings, a mental patient, and a pathological liar, who had got himself engaged to two other girls because he just could not stop inventing personalities for himself. As a result, Kitty had a slightly bewildered air, because she felt (as Shiela did) that there must be something in her which attracted such people, though she couldn’t imagine what it was.

Shiela saw it all quite clearly, problem and solution, on the very first evening Matt called.

“Do you know that I have the perfect wife for you?” she said.

“Is that so?” asked Matt with amusement. “Who’s she?”

“A girl called O’Malley, a friend of Jim’s. She’s a grand girl, isn’t she, Jim?”

“Grand girl,” agreed Jim.

“But can she support me in the style I’m accustomed tor” asked Matt who persisted in his pretence of being mercenary.

“Not like your shopkeeper’s daughter, I’m afraid.”

“And you think she’d have me?”

“Oh, certain, if only you’ll let me handle her. If she’s left to herself, she’ll choose an alcoholic or something. She’s shy, and shy girls never get to be courted by anything less dynamic than a mental case. She’ll never go out of her way to catch you, so you’d better leave all that to me.”

Shiela had great fun, organizing meetings of her two sedate friends, but to her great surprise Jim rapidly grew bored and angry with the whole thing. After Matt and Kitty had been three times to Fair Hill and he had been twice to supper with them, he struck. This time Shiela had arranged that they were all to go to the pictures together, and Jim lost his temper with her. Like all good-natured men, when he was angry he became immoderate and unjust.

“Go with them yourself!” he shouted. “What the hell do you want mixing yourself up in it at all for? If they can’t do their own courting, let them live single.”

She was downcast, and went to the bedroom to weep. Soon after, he tiptoed into the room and took her hand, talking about everything except the subject on her mind. After ten minutes he rose and peered out of the low window at the view of the city he had loved from boyhood. “What the hell do they want building houses here for and then not giving you a decent view?” he asked in chagrin. All the same, she knew he knew she was jealous. It was all very well arranging a match between Matt and Kitty, but she hated the thought of their going out together and talking of her the way she talked of them. If only Jim had been her own age, she would not have cared much what they said of her, but he was by comparison an old man and might die any day, leaving her alone and without her spare wheel. She could even anticipate how it would happen. She was very good at anticipating things, and she had noticed how in the middle of the night Jim’s face smoothed out into that of a handsome boy, and she knew that this was the face he would wear when he was dead. He would lie like that in this very room, with a rosary bead he could no longer resent between his transparent fingers, and Matt, in that gentle firm way of his, would take charge of everything for her. He would take her in his arms to comfort her, and each would know it had come too late. So, though she did wish him to have Kitty if he could not have her, she did not want them to be too much together in her absence and hoped they might not be too precipitate. Anything might happen Jim; they were both young—only thirty or so—and it would not hurt them to wait.

When they did marry six months later, neither Matt nor Kitty knew the generosity that had inspired her, or the pain it had caused her. She suspected that Jim knew, though he said no more about it than he did about all the other things that touched him closely.

Yet he made it worse for her by his terrible inability to tidy up his affairs. All that winter he was ill, and dragged himself to the shop and back, and for three weeks he lay in bed, choking—as usual, with a pipe that gave him horrible spasms of coughing. It was not only that he had a weak chest; he had a weak heart as well, and one day the bronchitis would put too much tension on the over-strained heart. But instead of looking after himself or making a will or insuring himself, or doing any of the things one would expect a sickly old man with a young wife to do, he spent his time in bed, wrapped in woollies and shawls, poring over house-plans. He had occupied his father’s unmanageable house on Fair Hill for twenty years without ever wishing to change it, but now he seemed to have got a new lease of life. He wanted to get rid of the basement and have one of the back rooms turned into a modern kitchen, with the dining-room opening off it.

Shiela was alarmed at the thought of such an outlay on a house she had no intention of occupying after his death. It was inconvenient enough to live in with him, but impossibly lonely for a woman living alone, and she knew that no other man, unless he had Jim’s awkward tastes, would even consider living there. Besides, she could not imagine herself living on in any house that reminded her of her loss. That, too, she could anticipate—his favourite view, his chair, his piperack, emptied of his presence—and knew she could never bear it.

“But you said yourself it was hell working in that kitchen,” he protested. “And it’s awful to have to eat there. It gives you the creeps if you have to go down there after dark.”

“But the money, Jim, the money!” she protested irritably.

“We have the money, girl,” he said. “That’s what you keep on saying yourself. It’s lying there in the bank, doing no good to anybody.”

“We might be glad of it one of these days,” said Shiela. “And if we had to sell the house, we’d never get back what we spent. It’s too inconvenient.”

“Who the hell said I wanted it back?” he snorted. “I want a place I can have some comfort in. Anyway, why would we sell it?”

This was something she did not like to say, though he knew what was on her mind, for after a moment he gave a wicked little grin and raised a warning forefinger at her.

“We’ll make the one job of it,” he whispered. “We’ll build the kitchen and buy the grave at the same time.”

“It’s no joking matter, Jim.”

He only threw back his head and roared in his childish way.

“And we’ll buy the bloody tombstone and have it inscribed. ‘Sacred to the Memory of James Gaffney, beloved husband of Shiela Gaffney Who.’ I declare to my God, well have people writing books on the Whos. The first family in Cork to take out insurance.”

She tried to get him to compromise on an upstairs kitchen of an inexpensive kind, a shed with a gas oven in it, but he wouldn’t even listen to her advice.

“Now, mind what I’m telling you, girl,” he said, lecturing her as he had done on the first night of their marriage, “there’s some maggot of meanness in all Irish people. They could halve their work and double their pleasure, but they’d sooner have it in the bank. Christ, they’d put themselves in a safe deposit if only they’d keep. Every winter of their lives shivering with the cold; running out to the haggard the wickedest night God sent; dying in hundreds and leaving the food for the flies in summer—all sooner than put the money into the one business that ever gives you a certain return: living! Look at that bloody city down there, full of perishing old misers!”

“But, Jim,” she cried in dismay, “you’re not thinking of putting in heating?”

“And why the hell wouldn’t I put in heating? Who keeps on complaining about the cold?”

“And a fridge?”

“Why not, I say? You’re the one that likes ice-cream.”

“Ah, Jim, don’t go on like that! You know we haven’t enough money to pay for the kitchen as it is.”

“Then we’ll get it. You just decide what you want, and I’ll see about the money.”

By the following summer Jim, who was behaving as though he would never die, was planning to get rid of the old improvised bathroom downstairs and install a new one of the most expensive kind off their bedroom.

“Jim,” she said desperately, “I tell you we cannot afford it.”

“Then we’ll borrow it,” he replied placidly. “We can’t afford to get penumonia in that damned old outhouse either. Look at the walls! They’re dripping wet. Anyway, now we have security to borrow on.”

But she hated the very thought of getting into debt. It wasn’t that she didn’t appreciate the fine new kitchen with a corner window that looked over the hill and up the valley of the river, or was not glad of the refrigerator and the heating, and it was certainly not that she wished Jim to die, because she worried herself into a frenzy trying to make sure he looked after himself and took the pills that were supposed to relieve the strain on his heart. No, if only someone could have assured her once for all that Jim would live to be eighty, she could have resigned herself to getting in debt for the sake of the new bathroom. But it was the nagging feeling that he had such a short time to live, and would die leaving everything in a mess of debt and extravagance as it was now, that robbed her of any pleasure she might feel.

She could not help contrasting themselves and the Sheridans. Matt had everything in order. It was true that he did not carry any regular identification card, but this, as she knew, was due more to modesty than irresponsibility. Matt would have felt self-conscious about instructing a totally unknown person as to what to do with his body. But he did have as much insurance as he could afford, and his will was made. Nothing serious was left unprovided for. Shiela could not help feeling that Kitty owed her a lot, and Kitty was inclined to feel the same. For a girl with such a spotty career, it was a joy to be married to someone as normal as Matt.

Not that Shiela found so much to complain of in Jim, apart from the one monstrous fact that he was too set in his ways. She saw that no matter how dearly you loved a man of that age or how good and clever he might be, it was still a mistake, because there was nothing you could do with him, nothing you could even modify. She did not notice that Jim’s friends thought he was different, or if she did she never ascribed it to her own influence. A girl who could not get him to do a simple thing like giving up smoking could not realize that she might have changed him in matters of more importance to himself. For we do not change people through the things in them that we would wish to change, but through the things that they themselves wish to change. What she had given Jim, though she did not recognize it, was precisely the thing whose consequences she deplored, the desire to live and be happy.

Then came the tragedy of Kitty’s death after the birth of her second child. Matt and the children came to stay with them in Fair Hill until Matt’s mother could close up her own home and come to keep house for him. Jim was deeply shocked by the whole business. He had always been exceedingly fond of Kitty, and he went so far as to advise Matt not to make any permanent arrangement with his mother but to marry again as soon as he could. But Matt, as he told Shiela on the side, had no intention of marrying again, and, though he did not say as much, she knew that he would never remarry—at least until she was free herself. And at once she was seized with impatience because everything in life seemed to happen out of sequence, as if a mad projectionist had charge of the film, and young and necessary people like Kitty died while old men like Jim with weak hearts and ailing chests dragged on, drinking and smoking, wheezing and coughing, and defying God and their doctors by planning new homes for themselves.

Sometimes she was even horrified at the thoughts that came into her mind. There were days when she hated Jim, and snapped and mocked at him until she realized that her behaviour was becoming monstrous. Then she went to some church and, kneeling in a dark corner, covered her face with her hands and prayed. Even if Jim believed in nothing, she did, and she prayed that she might be enlightened about the causes of her anger and discontent. For, however she tried, she could find in herself no real hostility to Jim. She felt that if she were called upon to do it, she could suffer anything on his behalf. Yet at the same time she was tormented by the spectacle of Matt, patient and uncomplaining, the way he looked and the way he spoke, and his terrible need of her, and had hysterical fits of impatience with Jim, older and rougher but still smiling affectionately at her as if he really understood the torments she was enduring. Perhaps he had some suspicion of them. Once when he came into the bedroom and saw her weeping on the bed, he grabbed her hand and hissed furiously: “Why can’t you try to live more in the present?”

It astonished her so much that she ceased weeping and even tried to get him to explain himself. But on matters that concerned himself and her, Jim was rarely lucid or even coherent, and she was left to think the matter out for herself. It was an idea she could not grasp. It was the present she was living in, and it was the present she hated. It was he who lived in the future, a future he would never enjoy. He tried to curb himself because he now realized how upset she became at his plans, but they proved too much for him, and because he thought the front room was too dark and depressing with its one tall window, he had a big picture window put in so that they could enjoy the wonderful view of the city, and a little terrace built outside where they could sit and have their coffee on fine summer evenings. She watched it all listlessly because she knew it was only for a year or two, and meanwhile Matt was eating his heart out in a little house by the river in Tivoli, waiting for Jim to die so that he could realize his life’s dream.

Then, to her astonishment, she fell ill and began to suspect that it might be serious. It even became clear to her that she might not be going to live. She was not really afraid of something for which she had prepared herself for years by trying to live in the presence of God, but she was both bewildered and terrified at the way in which it threatened to make a mockery of her life and Matt’s. It was the mad projectionist again, and again he seemed to have got the reels mixed up till the story became meaningless. Who was this white-faced brave little woman who cracked jokes with the doctors when they tried to encourage her about the future? Surely, she had no part in the scenario.

She went to hospital in the College Road, and each day Jim came and sat with her, talking about trifles till the nuns drove him away. He had shut up the house on Fair Hill and taken a room near the hospital so as to be close to her. She had never seen a human being so anxious and unhappy, and it diverted her in her own pain to make fun of him. She even flirted with him as she had not done since the days of their courtship, affecting to believe that she had trapped him into accepting her. But when Matt came to see her the very sight of him filled her with nausea. How on earth could she ever have thought of marrying that gentle, devoted, intelligent man! All she now wanted health for was to return to Fair Hill and all the little improvements that Jim had effected for their happiness. She could be so contented, sitting on the terrace or behind the picture window looking down at the city with its spires and towers and bridges that sent up to them such a strange, dissociated medley of sound. But as the days went by she realized with her clear penetrating intelligence that this was a happiness she had rejected, and which now she would never be permitted to know. All that her experience could teach her was its value.

“Jim,” she said the day before she died, as she laid her hand in his, “I’d like you to know that there never was anybody only you.”

“Why?” he asked, trying to keep the anguish out of his face. “Did you think I believed it?”

“I gave you cause enough,” she said regretfully. “I could never make up my mind, only once, and then I couldn’t stick by it. I want you to promise me if I don’t come back that you’ll marry again. You’re the sort who can’t be happy without someone to plan for.”

“Won’t you ever give up living in the future?” he asked with a reproachful smile, and then raised her hand and kissed it.

It was their last conversation. He did not marry again, even for her sake, though in public at least he did not give the impression of a man broken down by grief. On the contrary, he remained cheerful and thriving for the rest of his days. Matt, who was made of different stuff, did not easily forgive him his callousness.


Mick Courtney had known Nan Ryan from the time he was fourteen or fifteen. She was the sister of his best friend, and youngest of a family of four in which she was the only girl. He came to be almost as fond of her as her father and brothers were; she had practically lost her mother’s regard by inheriting her father’s looks. Her ugliness indeed was quite endearing. She had a stocky, sturdy figure and masculine features all crammed into a feminine container till it bulged. None of her features was really bad, and her big, brown, twinkling eyes were delightful, but they made a group that was almost comic.

Her brothers liked her spirit; they let her play with them while any of them were of an age for play, and, though she suffered from night-panics and Dinny broke the maternal rule by letting her into his bed, they never told. He, poor kid, would be wakened in the middle of the night by Nan’s pulling and shaking. “Dinny, Dinny,” she would hiss fiercely, “I have ’em again!” “What are they this time?” Dinny would ask drowsily. “Li-i-ons!” she would reply in a bloodcurdling tone, and then lie for half an hour in his arms, contracting her toes and kicking spasmodically while he patted and soothed her.

She grew up a tomboy, fierce, tough, and tearless, fighting in Dinny’s gang, which contested the old quarry on the road with the hill-tribes from the slum area above it; and this was how Mick was to remember her best—an ugly, stocky little Amazon, leaping from rock to rock, hurling stones in an awkward but effective way, and screaming deadly insults at the enemy and encouragement to her own side.

He could not have said when she gave up fighting, but between twelve and fourteen she became the pious one in a family not remarkable for piety, always out at Mass or diving into church on her way from school to light candles and make novenas. Afterwards it struck Mick that it might have been an alternative to getting in Dinny’s bed, for she still suffered from night-fears, only now when they came on she grabbed her rosary beads instead.

It amused him to discover that she had developed something of a crush on himself. Mick had lost his faith, which in Cork is rather similar to a girl’s loss of her virtue and starts the same sort of flutterings among the quiet ones of the opposite sex. Nan would be waiting for him at the door in the evening, and when she saw him would begin to jump down the steps one by one with her feet together, her hands stiff at her sides, and her pigtail tossing.

“How are the novenas coming on, Nan?” he would ask with amusement.

“Fine!” she would reply in a shrill, expressionless voice. “You’re on your way.”

“I’ll come quietly.”

“You think you won’t, but I know better. I’m a fierce pray-er.”

Another stiff jump took her past him.

“Why don’t you do it for the blacks, Nan?”

“I’m doing it for them, too, sure.”

But though her brothers could ease the pangs of childhood for her, adolescence threw her on the mercy of life. Her mother, a roly-poly of a woman who went round a great deal with folded arms, thus increasing the impression of curves and rolls, was still a beauty, and did her best to disguise Nan’s ugliness, a process that mystified her husband, who could see nothing wrong with the child except her shaky mathematics.

“I’m no blooming beauty,’ Nan would cry, with an imitation of a schoolboy’s toughness, whenever her mother tried to get her out of the rough tweeds and dirty pullovers she fancied into something more feminine.

“The dear knows you’re not,” her mother would say, folding her arms with an expression of resignation. “I don’t suppose you want to advertise it, though.”

“Why wouldn’t I advertise it?” Nan would cry, squaring up to her. “I don’t want any of your dirty old men.”

“You needn’t worry, child. They’ll let you well alone.”

“Let them!” Nan would say, scowling. “I don’t care. I want to be a nun.”

All the same, it made her self-conscious about friendships with girls of her own age, even pious ones like herself. They, too, would have boys around, and the boys wanted nothing to do with Nan. Though she carefully avoided all occasion for a slight, even the hint of one was enough to make her brooding and resentful, and then she seemed to become hideous and shapeless and furtive. She slunk round the house with her shoulders up about her ears, her red-brown hair hanging loose, and a cigarette glued loosely to her lower lip. Suddenly and inexplicably she would drop some nice girl she had been friendly with for years, and never even speak of her again. It gave her the reputation of being cold and insincere, but as Dinny in his shrewd, old-mannish way observed to Mick, she made her real friends among older women and even sick people—“all seventy or paralysed,” as he put it. Yet even with these she tended to be jealous and exacting.

Dinny didn’t like this, and his mother thought it was awful, but Nan paid no attention to their views. She had become exceedingly obstinate in a way that did not suit either her age or her sex, and it made her seem curiously angular, almost masculine, as though it were the psychological aspect of her ugliness. She had no apparent shyness and stalked in and out of a room, swinging her arms like a boy. Her conversation changed, too, and took on the tone of an older woman’s. It was not dull—she was far too brainy to be dull—but it was too much on one key— “crabbed” to use a local word—and it did not make the sharp distinctions young people’s conversation makes between passion and boredom. Dinny and Mick could be very bored indeed in one another’s company, but suddenly some topic would set flame to their minds, and they would walk the streets by the hour with their coats buttoned up, arguing.

Her father was disappointed when she refused to go to college. When she did go to work, it was in a dress shop, a curious occupation for a girl whose only notions of dress were a trousers and jersey.


Then one night something happened that electrified Mick. It was more like a transformation scene in a pantomime than anything in his experience. Later, of course, he realized that it had not happened like that at all. It was just that, as usual with those one has known too well, he had ceased to observe Nan, had taken her too much for granted, and the change in her had come about gradually and imperceptibly till it forced itself on his attention in the form of a shock.

Dinny was upstairs, and Mick and she were arguing. Though without formal education, Mick was a well-read man, and he had no patience with Nan’s literary tastes, which were those of her aged and invalid acquaintances —popular novels and biographies. As usual, he made fun of her and, as usual, she grew angry. “You’re so damn superior, Mick Courtney,” she said with a scowl and went to search for the book they had discussed in the big mahogany bookcase, which was one of the handsome pieces of furniture her mother took pride in. Laughing, Mick got up and stood beside her, putting his arm round her shoulder as he would have done at any other time. She misunderstood the gesture, for she leaned back on his shoulder and offered herself to be kissed. At that moment only did he realize that she had turned into a girl of startling beauty. He did not kiss her. Instead, he dropped his arm and looked at her incredulously. She gave him a malicious grin and went on with her search.

For the rest of the evening he could not take his eyes from her. Now he could easily analyse the change for himself. He remembered that she had been ill with some type of fever and had come out of it white and thin. Then she had seemed to shoot up, and now he saw that during her illness her face had lengthened, and one by one each of those awkward lumps of feature had dropped into place and proportion till they formed a perfect structure that neither age nor illness could any longer quite destroy. It was not in the least like her mother’s type of beauty, which was round and soft and eminently pattable. It was like a translation of her father’s masculinity, tight and strained and almost harsh, and she had deliberately emphasized it by the way she pulled her hair back in a tight knot, exposing the rather big ears. Already it had begun to effect her gait, for she no longer charged about a room swinging her arms like a sergeant-major. At the same time she had not yet learned to move gracefully, and she seemed to drift rather than walk, and came in and went out in profile as though afraid to face a visitor or turn her back on him. And he wondered again at the power of habit that causes us to live with people historically, with faults or virtues that have long disappeared to every eye but our own.

For twelve months Mick had been going steadily with a nice girl from Sunday’s Well, and in due course he would have married her. Mick was that sort, a creature of habit who controlled circumstances by simplifying them down to a routine—the same restaurant, the same table, the same waitress, and the same dish. It enabled him to go on with his own thoughts. But whenever anything did happen to disturb this routine it was like a convulsion of Nature for him; even his favourite restaurant became a burden, and he did not know what to do with his evenings and week-ends. The transformation of Nan into a beauty had a similar effect on him. Gradually he dropped the nice girl from Sunday’s Well without a word of explanation or apology and went more and more to the Ryans’, where he had a feeling of not being particularly welcome to anyone but Dinny and—sometimes at least—Nan herself. She had plenty of admirers without him. The change was there all right. Mr. Ryan, a tall, bald, noisy man with an ape-like countenance of striking good-nature, enjoyed it as proof that sensible men were not put off by a girl’s mathematics—he, poor man, had noticed no change whatever in his daughter. Mrs. Ryan had no such pleasure. Naturally, she had always cared more for her sons, but they had not brought home with them attractive young men who were compelled to flirt with her, and now Nan took an almost perverse delight in keeping the young men and her mother apart. Beauty had brought out what ugliness had failed to do—a deep resentment of her mother that at times went too far for Mick’s taste. Occasionally he saw it in a reversion to a heavy, stolid, almost stupid air that harked back to her childhood, sometimes in a sparkle of wit that had malice in it. She made up for this by what Mick thought of as an undue consideration for her father. Whenever he came into the room, bellowing and cheerful, her face lit up.

She had ceased to wear the rough masculine tweeds she had always preferred, and to Mick’s eye it was not a change for the better. She had developed a passion for good clothes without an understanding of them, and used powder and lipstick in the lavish tasteless manner of a girl of twelve.

But if he disapproved of her taste in dress, he hated her taste in men. What left Dinny bored made Mick mad. He and Nan argued about this in the same way they argued about books. “Smoothies,” he called her admirers to her face. There was Joe Lyons, the solicitor, a suave, dark-haired young man with mysterious slit-like eyes, who combined a knowledge of wines with an intellectual Catholicism, and Matt Healy, a little leprechaun of a butter merchant, who had a boat and rattled on cheerfully about whiskey and “dames.” The pair of them could argue for a full half-hour about a particular make of car or a Dublin hotel without, so far as Mick could see, ever uttering one word of sense, and obviously Lyons despised Healy as a chatter-box and Healy despised Lyons as a fake, while both of them despised Mick. They thought he was a character, and whenever he tried to discuss religion or politics with them they listened with an amusement that made him furious.

“I stick to Mick against the day the Revolution comes,” said Healy with his leprechaun’s laugh.

“No,” Lyons said, putting his arm patronizingly about Mick, “Mick will have nothing to do with revolutions.”

“Don’t be too sure,” said Healy, his face lit up with merriment. “Mick is a sans-culotte. Isn’t that the word, Mick?”

“I repeat no,” said Lyons with his grave smile. “I know Mick. Mick is a wise man. Mind,” he added solemnly, raising his finger, “I didn’t say an intelligent man. I said a wise one. There’s a difference.”

Mick could not help being angry. When they talked that way to Dinny, he only blinked politely and drifted upstairs to his book or his gramophone, but Mick stayed and grew mad. He was hard-working, but unambitious; too intelligent to value the things commonplace people valued, but too thin-skinned to ignore their scorn at his failure to do so.

Nan herself had no objection to being courted by Mick. She was still under the influence of her childish infatuation, and it satisfied her vanity to be able to indulge it. She was an excellent companion, active and intelligent, and would go off for long walks with him over the hills through the fields to the river. They would end up in a public house in Glanmire or Little Island, though she soon stopped him trying to be extravagant in the manner of Healy and Lyons. “I’m a whiskey-drinker, Mick,” she would say with a laugh. “You’re not a whiskey-buyer.” She could talk for an hour over a glass of beer, but when Mick tried to give their conversation a sentimental turn she countered with a bluff practicality that shocked him.

“Marry you?” she exclaimed with a laugh. “Who died and left you the fortune?”

“Why, do I have to have a fortune?” he asked quietly, though he was stung by her good-natured contempt.

“Well, it would be a help if you’re thinking of getting married,” she replied with a laugh. “As long as I remember my family, we never seem to have been worried by anything else.”

“Of course, if you married Joe Lyons, you wouldn’t have to worry,” he said with a hint of a sneer.

“From my point of view, that would be a very good reason, she said.

“A classy car and St. Thomas Aquinas,” Mick went on, feeling like a small boy, but unable to stop himself. “What more could a girl ask?”

“You resent people having cars, don’t you?” she asked, leaning her elbows on the table and giving him a nasty look. “Don’t you think it might help if you went and got one for yourself ?”

The worldly, middle-aged tone, particularly when linked with the Ryan go-getting, could be exceedingly destructive. There was something else that troubled him, too, though he was not sure why. He had always liked to pose a little as a man of the world, but Nan could sometimes shock him badly. There seemed to be depths of sensuality in her that were out of character. He could not believe that she really intended it, but she could sometimes inflame him with some sudden violence or coarseness as no ordinary girl could do.

Then one evening when they were out together, walking in the Lee Fields, he noticed a change in her. She and another girl had been spending a few days in Glengarrifte with Healy and Lyons. She did not want to talk of it, and he had the feeling that something about it had disappointed her. She was different—brooding, affectionate, and intense. She pulled off her shoes and stockings and sat with her feet in the river, her hands joined between her knees, while she gazed at the woods on the other side of the river.

“You think too much of Matt and Joe,” she said, splashing her feet. “Why can’t you feel sorry for them?”

“Feel sorry for them?” he repeated, so astonished that he burst into a laugh.

She turned her head and her brown eyes rested on him with a strange innocence. “If you weren’t such an old agnostic, I’d say pray for them.”

“For what?” he asked, still laughing. “Bigger dividends?”

“The dividends aren’t much use to them,” she said. “They’re both bored. That’s why they like me—I don’t bore them. They don’t know what to make of me. ... Mind,” she added, laughing in her enthusiastic way, “I love money, Mick Courtney. I love expensive clothes and flashy dinners and wines I can’t pronounce the name of, but they don’t take me in. A girl who was brought up as I was needs more than that to take her in.”

“What is it you need?” asked Mick.

“Why don’t you go and do something?” she asked with sudden gravity.

“What?” he replied with a shrug.

“What?” she asked, waving her hands. “What do I care? I don’t even know what you like. I don’t mind if you make a mess of it. It’s not failure I’m afraid of. It’s just getting stuck in the mud, not caring for anything. Look at Daddy! You may not think so, but I know he’s a brilliant man, and he’s stuck. Now he hopes the boys will find out whatever secret there is and do all the things he couldn’t do. That doesn’t appeal to me.”

“Yes,” Mick agreed thoughtfully, lighting a cigarette and answering himself rather than her. “I know what you mean. I dare say I’m not ambitious. I’ve never felt the need for being ambitious. But I fancy I could be ambitious for someone else. I’d have to get out of Cork though. Probably to Dublin. There’s nothing here in my line.”

“Dublin would do me fine,” she said with satisfaction. “Mother and I would get on much better at that distance.”

He said nothing for a few moments, and Nan went on splashing gaily with her feet.

“Is that a bargain then?” he asked.

“Oh, yes,” she said, turning her big soft eyes on him. “That’s a bargain. Don’t you know I was always mad about you?”

Their engagement made a big change in Mick. He was, as I have said, a creature of habit, a man who lived by associations. He really knew the city in a way that few of us knew it, its interesting corners and queer characters, and the idea of having to exchange it for a place of no associations at all was more of a shock to him than it would have been to any of us; but though at certain times it left him with a lost feeling, at others it restored to him a boyish excitement and gaiety, as though the trip he was preparing for was some dangerous voyage from which he might not return, and when he lit up like that he became more attractive, reckless, and innocent. Nan had always been attracted by him; now she really admired and loved him.

All the same, she did not discontinue her outings with her other beaux. In particular, she remained friendly with Lyons, who was really fond of her and believed that she wasn’t serious about marrying Mick. He was, as she said, a genuinely kind man, and was shocked at the thought that so beautiful a girl should even consider cooking and washing clothes on a clerk’s income. He went to her father about it, and explained patiently to him that it would mean social extinction for Nan, and he would even have gone to Mick himself but that Nan forbade it. “But he can’t do it, Nan,” he protested earnestly. “Mick is a decent man. He can’t do that to you.” “He can’t, like hell,” said Nan, chuckling and putting her head on Lyons’s chest. “He’d send me out on the streets to keep himself in fags.”

These minor infidelities did not in the least worry Mick, who was almost devoid of jealousy. He was merely amused by her occasional lies and evasions, and even more by the fits of conscience that followed them.

“Mick,” she asked between anger and laughter, “why do I tell you all these lies? I’m not naturally untruthful, am I? I didn’t go to Confession on Saturday night. I went out with Joe Lyons instead. He still believes I’m going to marry him, and I would, too, if only he had a brain in his head. Mick, why can’t you be attractive like that?”

But if Mick didn’t resent it, Mrs. Ryan resented it on his behalf, though she resented his complaisance even more. She was sufficiently feminine to know she might have done the same herself, and to feel that if she had, she would need correction. No man is ever as anti-feminist as a really feminine woman.

No, it was Nan’s father who exasperated Mick, and he was sensible enough to realize that he was being exasperated without proper cause. When Joe Lyons lamented Nan’s decision to Tom Ryan as though it were no better than suicide, the old man was thunder-struck. He had never mixed in society himself, which might be the reason that he had never got anywhere in life.

“You really think it would come to that, Joe?” he asked, scowling.

“But consider it for yourself, Mr. Ryan,” pleaded Joe, raising that warning finger of his. “Who is going to receive them? They can always come to my house, but I’m not everybody. Do you think they’ll be invited to the Healys’? I say, the moment they marry, Matt will drop them, and I won’t blame him. It’s a game, admitted, but you have to play it. Even I have to play it, and my only interest is in philosophy.”

By the end of the evening, Tom Ryan had managed to persuade himself that Mick was almost a ne’er-do-well and certainly an adventurer. The prospect of the Dublin job did not satisfy him in the least. He wanted to know what Mick proposed to do then. Rest on his oars? There were examinations he could take which would insure his chances of promotion. Tom would arrange it all and coach him himself.

At first Mick was amused and patient; then he became sarcastic, a great weakness of his whenever he was forced on the defensive. Tom Ryan, who was as incapable as a child of understanding sarcasm, rubbed his bald head angrily and left the room in a flurry. If Mick had only hit him over the head, as his wife did whenever he got on her nerves, Tom would have understood that he was only relieving his feelings and liked him the better for it. But sarcasm was to him a sort of silence, a denial of attention that hurt him bitterly.

“I wish you wouldn’t speak to Daddy like that,” Nan said one night when her father had been buzzing about Mick with syllabuses he had refused even to look at.

“I wish Daddy would stop arranging my life for me,” Mick said wearily.

“He only means it in kindness.”

“I didn’t think he meant it any other way,” Mick said stiffly. “But I wish he’d get it into his head that I’m marrying you, not him.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure of that either, Mick,” she said angrily.

“Really, Nan!” he said reproachfully. “Do you want me to be pushed round by your old man?”

“It’s not only that,” she said, rising and crossing the room to the fireplace. He noticed that when she lost her temper, she suddenly seemed to lose command of her beauty. She scowled, bowed her head, and walked with a heavy guardsman’s tread. “It’s just as well we’ve had this out because I’d have had to tell you anyway. I’ve thought about it enough, God knows. I can’t possibly marry you.”

Her tone was all that was necessary to bring Mick back to his own tolerant, reasonable self.

“Why not?” he asked gently.

“Because I’m scared, if you want to know.” And just then, looking down at him, she seemed scared.

“Of marriage?”

“Of marriage as well.” He noticed the reservation.

“Of me, so?”

“Oh, of marriage and you and myself,” she said explosively. “Myself most of all.”

“Afraid you may kick over the traces?” he asked with affectionate mockery.

“You think I wouldn’t?” she hissed with clenched fists, her eyes narrowing and her face looking old and grim. “You don’t understand me at all, Mick Courtney,” she added with a sort of boyish braggadocio that made her seem again like the little tomboy he had known. “You don’t even know the sort of things I’m capable of. You’re wrong for me. I always knew you were.”

Mick treated the scene lightly, as though it were merely another of their disagreements, but when he left the house he was both hurt and troubled. Clearly there was a side of her character that he did not understand, and he was a man who liked to understand things, if only so that he could forget about them and go on with his own thoughts. Even on the familiar hill-street, with the gas lamp poised against the night sky, he seemed to be walking a road without associations. He knew Nan was unhappy and felt it had nothing to do with the subject of their quarrel. It was unhappiness that had driven her into his arms in the first place, and now it was as though she were being driven out again by the same wind. He had assumed rather too complacently that she had turned to him in the first place because she had seen through Healy and Lyons, but now he felt that her unhappiness had nothing to do with them either. She was desperate about herself rather than them. It struck him that she might easily have been tempted too far by Lyons’s good looks and kindness. She was the sort of passionate girl who could very easily be lured into an indiscretion, and who would then react from it in loathing and self-disgust. The very thought that this might be the cause moved him to a passion of protective tenderness, and before he went to bed he wrote and posted an affectionate letter, apologizing for his rudeness to her father and promising to consider her feelings more in the future.

In reply, he got a brief note, delivered at his house while he was at work. She did not refer at all to his letter, and told him that she was marrying Lyons. It was a dry note and, for him, full of suppressed malice. He left his own house and met Dinny on the way up to call for him. From Dinny’s gloomy air Mick saw that he knew all about it. They went for one of their usual country walks, and only when they were sitting in a country pub over their beer did Mick speak of the breach.

Dinny was worried and his worry made him rude, and through the rudeness Mick seemed to hear the voices of the Ryans discussing him. They hadn’t really thought much of him as a husband for Nan, but had been prepared to put up with him on her account. At the same time there was no question in their minds but that she didn’t really care for Lyons and was marrying him only in some mood of desperation induced by Mick. Obviously, it was all Mick’s fault.

“I can’t really imagine what I did,” Mick said reasonably. “Your father started bossing me, and I was rude to him. I know that, and I told Nan I was sorry.”

“Oh, the old man bosses us all, and we’re all rude,” said Dinny. “It’s not that.”

“Then it’s nothing to do with me,” Mick said doggedly.

“Maybe not,” replied Dinny without conviction. “But, whatever it is, the harm is done. You know how obstinate Nan is when she takes an idea into her head.”

“And you don’t think I should see her and ask her?”

“I wouldn’t,” said Dinny, looking at Mick directly for the first time. “I don’t think Nan will marry you, old man, and I’m not at all sure but that it might be the best thing for you. You know I’m fond of her, but she’s a curious girl. I think you’ll only hurt yourself worse than you’re hurt already.”

Mick realized that Dinny, for whatever reasons, was advising him to quit, and for once he was in a position to do so. With the usual irony of events, the job in Dublin he had been seeking only on her account had been offered to him, and he would have to leave at the end of the month.

This, which had seemed an enormous break with his past, now turned out to be the very best solace for his troubled mind. Though he missed old friends and familiar places more than most people, he had the sensitiveness of his type to any sort of novelty, and soon ended by wondering how he could ever have stuck Cork for so long. Within twelve months he had met a nice girl called Eilish and married her. And though Cork people might be parochial, Eilish believed that anything that didn’t happen between Glasnevin and Terenure had not happened at all. When he talked to her of Cork, her eyes simply glazed over.

So entirely did Cork scenes and characters fade from his memory that it came as a shock to him to meet Dinny one fine day in Grafton Street. Dinny was on his way to his first job in England, and Mick at once invited him home. But before they left town they celebrated their reunion in Mick’s favourite pub off Grafton Street. Then he could ask the question that had sprung to his mind when he caught sight of Dinny’s face.

“How’s Nan?”

“Oh, didn’t you hear about her?” Dinny asked with his usual air of mild surprise. “Nan’s gone into a convent, you know.”

“Nan?” repeated Mick. “Into a convent?”

“Yes,” said Dinny. “Of course, she used to talk of it when she was a kid, but we never paid much attention. It came as a surprise to us. I fancy it surprised the convent even more,” he added dryly.

“For God’s sake!” exclaimed Mick. “And the fellow she was engaged to? Lyons.”

“Oh, she dropped him inside a couple of months,” said Dinny with distaste. “I never thought she was serious about him anyway. The fellow is a damned idiot.”

Mick went on with his drink, suddenly feeling embarrassed and strained. A few minutes later he asked, with the pretence of a smile:

“You don’t think if I’d hung on she might have changed her mind?”

“I dare say she might,” Dinny replied sagaciously. “I’m not so sure it would have been the best thing for you, though,” he added kindly. “The truth is I don’t think Nan is the marrying kind.”

“I dare say not,” said Mick, but he did not believe it for an instant. He was quite sure that Nan was the marrying kind, and that nothing except the deep unhappiness that had first united and then divided them had kept her from marrying. But what that unhappiness was about he still had no idea, and he saw that Dinny knew even less than he did.

Their meeting had brought it all back, and at intervals during the next few years it returned again to his mind, disturbing him. It was not that he was unhappy in his own married life—a man would have to have something gravely wrong with him to be unhappy with a girl like Eilish—but sometimes in the morning when he kissed her at the gate and went swinging down the ugly modern avenue towards the sea, he would think of the river or the hills of Cork and of the girl who had seemed to have none of his pleasure in simple things, whose decisions seemed all to have been dictated by some inner torment.


Then, long after, he found himself alone in Cork, tidying up things after the death of his father, his last relative there, and was suddenly plunged back into the world of his childhood and youth, wandering like a ghost from street to street, from pub to pub, from old friend to old friend, resurrecting other ghosts in a mood that was half anguish, half delight. He walked out Blackpool and up Goulding’s Glen only to find that the big mill-pond had all dried up, and sat on the edge remembering winter days when he was a child and the pond was full of skaters, and summer nights when it was full of stars. His absorption in the familiar made him peculiarly susceptible to the poetry of change. He visited the Ryans and found Mrs. Ryan almost as good-looking and pattable as ever, though she moaned sentimentally about the departure of the boys, her disappointment with Nan, and her husband’s growing crankiness.

When she saw him to the door she folded her arms and leaned against the jamb.

“Wisha, Mick, wouldn’t you go and see her?” she asked reproachfully.

“Nan?” said Mick. “You don’t think she’d mind?”

“Why would she mind, boy?” Mrs. Ryan said with a shrug. “Sure the girl must be dead for someone to talk to! Mick, boy, I was never one for criticizing religion, but, God forgive me, that’s not a natural life at all. I wouldn’t stand it for a week. All those old hags!”

Mick, imagining the effect of Mrs. Ryan on any well-organized convent, decided that God would probably not hold it too much against her, but he made up his mind to visit Nan. The convent was on one of the steep hills outside the city, with a wide view of the valley from its front lawn. He was expecting a change, but her appearance in the ugly convent parlour startled him. The frame of white linen and black veil gave her strongly marked features the unnatural relief of a fifteenth-century German portrait. And the twinkle of the big brown eyes convinced him of an idea that had been forming slowly in his mind through the years.

“Isn’t it terrible I can’t kiss you, Mick?” she said with a chuckle. “I suppose I could, really, but our old chaplain is a terror. He thinks I’m the New Nun. He’s been hearing about her all his life, but I’m the first he’s run across. Come into the garden where we can talk,” she added with an awed glance at the holy pictures on the walls. “This place would give you the creeps. I’m at them the whole time to get rid of that Sacred Heart. It’s Bavarian, of course. They love it.”

Chattering on, she rustled ahead of him on to the lawn with her head bowed. He knew from the little flutter in her voice and manner that she was as pleased to see him as he was to see her. She led him to a garden seat behind a hedge that hid them from the convent, and then grabbed in her enthusiastic way at his hand.

“Now, tell me all about you,” she said. “I heard you were married to a very nice girl. One of the sisters went to school with her. She says she’s a saint. Has she converted you yet?”

“Do I look as if she had?” he asked with a pale smile.

“No,” she replied with a chuckle. “I’d know that agnostic look of yours anywhere. But you needn’t think you’ll escape me all the same.”

“You’re a fierce pray-er,” he quoted, and she burst into a delighted laugh.

“It’s true,” she said. “I am. I’m a terror for holding on.”

“Really?” he asked mockingly. “A girl that let two men slip in—what was it? a month?”

“Ah, that was different,” she said with sudden gravity. “Then there were other things at stake. I suppose God came first.” Then she looked at him slyly out of the corner of her eye. “Or do you think I’m only talking nonsense?”

“What else is it?” he asked.

“I’m not, really,” she said. “Though I sometimes wonder myself how it all happened,” she added with a rueful shrug. “And it’s not that I’m not happy here. You know that?”

“Yes,” he said quietly. “I’ve suspected that for quite a while.”

“My,” she said with a laugh, “you have changed!”

He had not needed her to say that she was happy, not did he need her to tell him why. He knew that the idea that had been forming in his mind for the last year or two was the true one, and that what had happened to her was not something unique and inexplicable. It was something that happened to others in different ways. Because of some inadequacy in themselves—poverty or physical weakness in men, poverty or ugliness in women—those with the gift of creation built for themselves a rich interior world; and when the inadequacy disappeared and the real world was spread before them with all its wealth and beauty, they could not give their whole heart to it. Uncertain of their choice, they wavered between goals—were lonely in crowds, dissatisfied amid noise and laughter, unhappy even with those they loved best. The interior world called them back, and for some it was a case of having to return there or die.

He tried to explain this to her, feeling his own lack of persuasiveness, and at the same time aware that she was watching him keenly and with amusement, almost as though she did not take him seriously. Perhaps she didn’t, for which of us can feel, let alone describe, another’s interior world? They sat there for close on an hour, listening to the convent bells calling one sister or another, and Mick refused to stay for tea. He knew convent tea parties, and had no wish to spoil the impression that their meeting had left on him.

“Pray for me,” he said with a smile as they shook hands.

“Do you think I ever stopped?” she replied with a mocking laugh, and he strode quickly down the shady steps to the lodge-gate in a strange mood of rejoicing, realizing that, however the city might change, that old love affair went on unbroken in a world where disgust or despair would never touch it, and would continue to do so till both of them were dead.


Hilda Redmond lived across the road from us in Cork. She was a slight fresh-complexioned woman with a long thin face and a nervous eager laughing manner. Her husband was tall and big-built, good-looking but morose, a man who you felt could never have been exactly gay. He was very attached to his two children, two little girls whom you saw him walking out in the country with every Sunday afternoon, each holding a hand while their tall father bowed his head to answer their questions. Though he and I became rather friendly, he never spoke to me about his wife except once to make fun of her sense of her own inadequacy, but this was sufficient to indicate how proud he was of her. As for Hilda, she is the sort of girl who will always feel inadequate; it is the way of women like her. Later, when heard her story, I saw why her sense of inadequacy struck him as so absurd.

Hilda, you see, had been brought up in a town in the North of Ireland, a small, black, bitter little seaside town rent by politics and religion. She was an only child, earnest and rather humourless, the sort of girl who in other circumstances would have devoted herself to some cause; but, since there was no cause to attract her, she took it out in piety. She was always a devout girl, conscientious almost to a fault.

One evening during the war Hilda and another girl were out walking, when they were accosted by two soldiers. Hilda had always been warned by her parents to shun soldiers, but as she had also been warned never to be rude, she found herself in a fix. Her companion, a flighty sort of a girl, was no help to her. These were well-mannered boys, and Hilda simply didn’t know how to get rid of them without rudeness. The result might have been foreseen. Within ten minutes, through no fault of her own, Hilda was being escorted back to town by a young soldier called Redmond, who addressed her by her first name. He was a tall lad with a very bony face and high cheek-bones, and he had a nice way of smiling with a front tooth that wasn’t there.

He insisted on seeing her to her door, and this proved another trial because Hilda felt it would be uncivil not to ask him in. She did so with terror in her heart, and he accepted without a trace of embarrassment. To Hilda there was something almost sinister about his free-and-easy air. He greeted her father and mother as if they, too, were old friends, though her father started every time he heard her called “Hilda.” Being reserved and quiet people, they were even more scared of him than Hilda was. Jim Redmond was a charmer, a bit of a playboy, and he knew you had only to make people laugh to put them at their ease.

He sat by the fire, bent over it, and picked up the poker —a funny instinctive gesture that she frequently noticed in him later—and told them about himself. He had been brought up in a Cork orphanage with his younger brother, Larry. He described how his mother, when she fell ill, had brought them to the orphanage door and left them with a monk. As she went back down the avenue Larry had charged screaming after her, demanding to be taken home. “Sure, I have no home now, childeen,” she had said. After that, for close on a year, Larry, against all the rules, had climbed into Jim’s bed, and Jim had got punished for it.

He told it well—lightly, almost humorously, so that you could, if you pleased, consider it as just another good story; but the Cramers did not smile. Hilda saw the tears in her mother’s eyes. She never forgot the picture of him that first evening, sitting across the fireplace from her holding the poker, his eyes wide and unblinking, as he told them about his youth in a quiet, husky voice that was rough but well-bred.

When he left, it was with an invitation to come again, and he took advantage of this to the point of bad manners, but somehow in him it was not offensive. He took to the house as if he were some stray animal who had adopted a home; he came at every free hour, to shave or change or talk to Hilda’s parents, or go walking with her, and it didn’t seem to matter much to him which of these he did. Her father and Jim carried on what seemed to be a bloodthirsty feud in the loudest, angriest voices which made Hilda and her mother tremble, but after each round they only seemed to like one another better. In many ways he was more like a brother than a sweetheart, and afterwards Hilda thought that it might have been the family he cared for rather than herself. There were things about him that continued to bother her. He seemed to have no shyness and. no sense of money (which shocked the Cramer family, who were all almost excessively thrifty), and if he saw some little present that might conceivably please her mother or herself, he bought it, even if he had to borrow the money from Hilda. But even this had its pleasant side because the Cramers enjoyed the slight feeling of dissipation that it gave them.

When Jim asked her to marry him, Hilda admitted in her candid way that she liked him better than any fellow she knew (not that her acquaintance with “fellows” was extensive), but she would have to be said by her parents.

Her parents, of course, were disappointingly cautious. They liked Jim, and they agreed that if in twelve months’ time Hilda and he felt the same way it would be all right, but, meanwhile, there was the war which made everything impossible, and Hilda was so young, and—though they did not say this to Jim—they would not like her to be left a widow so early in life.

Because Jim was easy-going and had adopted them almost as much as they had adopted him, he could not be too insistent. At the same time Hilda knew he was desperately anxious to marry at once, and he even talked in his wild way about deserting the army and returning to Southern Ireland, where he could not be reached. She felt torn between her parents and him, and towards the end of his stay, she was strongly tempted to marry him in spite of them.

She didn’t. Soon after that he was killed, and his death came as a real shock to her. It was her first brush with tragedy, and she was the stuff of which tragedy is made. Though her parents were upset, they could scarcely avoid feeling that they had done the right thing, but Hilda had no such satisfaction. She was convinced now that she had done wrong; that Jim, who had never known a home, had wanted to make one with her and that, through her own weakness of character, she had deprived him of the chance. She was not fair to herself, but she was an earnest girl, and earnest people rarely are fair to themselves.

At the same she had been brought up in a rigid code and felt that she must not let her parents see that she blamed them or that Jim’s death had changed her. A few months later she started to walk out again, this time with a young mechanic called Jack Giltinan. He was a small, plump, full-flavoured man who was going bald at an early age. He had a small, round, wrinkled face and tiny, brown, twinkling eyes. There was something birdlike about Jack, in his quickness and lightness, the cock of his eye, and the angle of his head.

Hilda, who in her earnestness was intent on not pretending to things she did not feel, thought it her duty to tell him all about Jim and warn him that she could never feel the same about anyone else. This did not seem to worry him at all.

“But it’s only natural, Hilda,” he said in his excitable, anxious way. “After all, it happened, and you can’t make it happen different now.”

“It’s only that I wouldn’t like to pretend anything, Jack,” she explained regretfully.

“Och, there’s no need to pretend,” he said, fluttering in an agony of concern. “If you were the sort to forget a fellow a week after he was killed, that would be something to pretend about. No man minds things like that. A fellow likes a girl to be sincere—yes, sincere,” he added, as though he had only just made up his mind about the appropriateness of the word. “It’s foolish, don’t you know, to be jealous of that sort of thing as if there wasn’t love enough for all of us in the world. My goodness, it’s crazy!”

Instead of pretending it hadn’t happened, they talked of Jim as though he had been an old friend of both. They discussed what he would have been like if he had lived, and wondered about his younger brother, Larry. “I must say I’d like to see that boy,” Jack said thoughtfully. “I think if I did, maybe I’d understand his brother better. Sometimes I can’t help wondering about Jim, the way you describe him. You won’t mind my saying it, Hilda? I sometimes wonder was he steady.”

Hilda didn’t mind his saying it. He liked people to be “steady” much as he liked them to be “sincere,” and he grew as embarrassed as a girl when he noticed examples of “unsteadiness” among his friends.


Then one evening when she came home from work her mother met her at the door, her hand to her cheek.

“Guess who’s here!” she whispered dramatically. Mrs. Cramer was a woman who loved a bit of drama if only she could be sure where the dramatic interest lay.

“Who’s that, mum?” asked Hilda. She was always amused at her mother’s hushed histrionics.

“Someone you were wondering about,” whispered her mother, the emphasis hovering between grief and delight.

“I can’t guess,” said Hilda with a laugh.

“Jim’s brother.”

“Oh, dear!” said Hilda, and it was only later that she remembered what her first reaction had been.

When she went down the steps to the snug little kitchen, a tall officer rose slowly from his seat by the fire. She noticed at once how he resembled Jim, though his face was broader and gloomier, and his manners had none of his brother’s ease and self-confidence. She suddenly found herself weeping quietly.

“Och, Larry,” she said, taking his hand in her two, “and it was only two nights ago that Jack and myself were wondering what happened you.”

“Quite a lot,” he muttered in confusion. “I was in Egypt most of the time.”

“And where are you staying now, Larry?”

“At the hotel. I was in the orphanage the last ten days. ... They let us take our holidays there,” he added by way of explanation. “Besides, I wanted to have another look at it.”

She noticed that he did not explain what he was doing in the North of Ireland. It could, of course, mean that he was on special duty, but it left her with a feeling of uneasiness. Her father, eager to know about the war, monopolized him during supper, and then Jack came in. “Jack and I are engaged,” Hilda said apologetically. She didn’t know why she felt she had to tell him at all except that it saved misunderstandings. “We must celebrate that,” he said firmly and brought a bottle of whiskey from the pocket of his topcoat. Her father and Jack each took a glass and then laid off, but he continued to drink.

“It’s only for my health,” he said with a sly look.

“Why, Larry?” Hilda asked anxiously. “Is your health not good?”

She saw from the way Jack and her father laughed that she had said the wrong thing as usual, but she didn’t mind because she saw now that Larry enjoyed a joke exactly like Jim, though his style was slyer and less boisterous. With Jim you could always tell when he was joking.

Jack, who had an early start at the machine-shop, left early and Hilda accompanied him to the door to say good-night. She could see he was impressed by Larry. As he put on his overcoat in his hasty, absent-minded way, he murmured: “That’s a real nice fellow. He’s been through a hell of a lot, though. More than he lets on. He needs a good rest.” Larry stayed till close on midnight, and she had the feeling that he would have stayed all night if given the chance. He was like Jim in that also. She guided him through the black-out to his hotel, past the narrow streets that let through the wind and the noise of the sea.

“When do you have to go back, Larry?” she asked.

“I still have a few days’ leave,” he replied. “I thought I might spend them here if I wasn’t in your way.”

“Och, Larry, how could you be in our way?” she asked in distress.

“I went to Cork to see the old spots where Jim and I used to be together,” he went on. “I’d like to do the same here.”

“I don’t know that there are many places he used to go,” she said anxiously. “He wasn’t here that long. I could take you to Inish tomorrow afternoon. Jack has a Union meeting tomorrow night, so he won’t be free.”

At the same time she was disturbed. Jim’s death, which had sunk into the background of her thoughts, was now very much in her mind again, and she found the hurt was no less. When she returned home and sat before the fire for a few minutes, discussing Larry, it was just as if Jim were between them, leaning forward from her father’s chair with the poker in his hand.

She felt it even more the next day when Larry called for her and they took the bus to the seaside town Jim had liked so much. Jim had always loved crowds and the sea, unlike Jack, who liked country roads and brisk cross-country walks, and she realized that she had not been to Inish since Jim’s death.

“I suppose we stay away because we don’t want to think,” she said as they walked up the little promenade over the beach.

“I suppose so,” he said doubtfully. “With me it’s the opposite.”

“But, Larry,” she asked timidly, “why do you do it if it upsets you?”

“I didn’t say it upset me,” he replied, frowning. “I like thinking of him. I dare say that’s why I wanted to meet you and your family. He wrote so much about you.”

“Oh, I know what you mean,” she said hastily, hearing a hint of reproach in his words. “I told Jack I could never feel the same about anyone again. ... It’s not that I wasn’t fond of Jim, Larry, you know,” she added shyly. “But we have to live just the same, don’t you think? It’s not fair to other people if we don’t. We have to remember them, too.”

“Oh, I didn’t mean that,” he said quickly, beginning to blush. “It’s a different thing entirely for you. You have your father and mother to consider, but I never had anybody but Jim. The monks wanted me to take a job in Cork, but I joined the army, hoping to be with him. Maybe if I had he’d still be alive.”

“Och, Larry, that’s a thing we can’t know,” she sighed. They had passed the promenade and were walking out along the little pier. They sat on a heap of boulders and looked across the channel in the evening light. She turned on him suddenly almost in desperation. Hilda had the sudden forthrightness of very shy people. “You want to get yourself killed, Larry, don’t you?” she asked gently.

The question seemed to startle him. He paused before answering.

“I suppose that’s true,” he said almost in a growl. “I never thought of it that way, but I suppose that’s what I really want.”

“But you shouldn’t, Larry,” she said, pleading with him. “It’s wrong. Really, it’s wrong. No matter how hard it is, we must try and live.”

Then he said something in a very low voice, full of shame and anger, which she just managed to catch.

“I could if I had you.”

She knew then that this was what she had been dreading the whole time since her mother told her he was in the house. This was what had brought him there. He had come there, as he had gone to Cork, to say good-bye to her as to another part of his brother, but all the time with the unconscious hope that through her he might again make contact with the living world. And she knew that this was why she had told him at once that she was engaged, hoping to head him off.

“But that’s impossible, Larry,” she whispered. “I told you already I’m engaged to Jack.”

He went on talking as though she had not spoken, without looking at her and almost as though he were talking to himself. He still had the same resentful expression and angry tone, as though he felt humiliated.

“I know I drink too much. Brother Murphy in the orphanage said he’d knock me down next time I let the kids see me like that. But that’s only since Jim’s death. I could give that up. I know I could. I’m not boasting.”

“Och, it’s not the drink, Larry,” she cried in distress. “Not that I like it—I never did, in anyone—but that’s not the reason. It’s Jack, Larry. Jack helped me when I was feeling wretched, much the way you are now, and I wouldn’t upset him for anything in the world.”

“I know that, Hilda,” he said, gaining control of himself. “I wasn’t really expecting you to give him up. You made no mistake in him. He’s a fine man. I only wanted to ask.”

They drove back over the hills in the dusk, Larry embarrassed and Hilda almost hysterical. When they separated, he asked if he could meet her again next evening, and she said at once that she thought it better not. Then, as she heard the fear make her voice harsh, she changed and suggested that they meet again the evening before he left.

“But you won’t mind if I ask you not to say a thing like that to me again? she asked urgently.

“No, Hilda,” he said, “I won’t ask you again,” and she saw that he had far less hope of influencing her than she had fear of being influenced.


Next evening Jack and she went for their favourite walk over the hills to the main road. It was such a relief to be with him that she told him the whole story. To her surprise, he seemed very much disturbed. Somehow, after her previous experience with him, she had grown to think of him as a rock of sense. He stood in the roadway and looked at her, his head cocked like a bird’s and a look of dismay on his round, russet face.

“But you’re not thinking of marrying him, are your” he asked anxiously.

“Och, no, Jack, of course not,” she said with a shrug. “I asked him not to mention it, and he won’t. I know he won’t. Why do you ask me that?”

“Because I don’t like it, that’s all,” Jack said, shaking his head anxiously. He pulled at a bough till it snapped and then began to strip it of its leaves as they walked on. “I suppose it’s the way I’m jealous,” he added with his usual frankness. “Of course, I am, too, but it’s not only that. It’s unhealthy. That’s how I feel, and that’s not all jealousy. No, no, no,” he went on, shaking his head again as though reassuring himself of his own frankness, “it’s not. His brother is dead, and he can’t bring him back to life. And that’s not the whole story, Hilda. He likes thinking of his brother because he’s dead. The dead have no minds of their own. You can’t fight with the dead. He won’t give up the drink. I watched the way he lowered it. That fellow will go dippy if he’s not careful.”

“But I thought you said you liked him, Jack,” she protested.

“Och, aye, I like him,” he went on, worrying it out. “Deep down he’s probably all right. But I don’t like this clinging to the past, to what can’t be remedied. It’s not healthy, I tell you. You’d want to mind what you said to him, Hilda.”

“But I said nothing to him, Jack. Only what I told you. And I couldn’t say more than that.”

“No, no, no, Hilda,” he said contritely. “I know you’d always do the right thing. It’s only that I can’t help worrying about you. I was hoping you were over this thing, and now it all seems to be beginning again.”

As usual he was right. For her it was beginning again, and it was unhealthy. She saw that Larry was attracted to her by the feeling of his brother around her, and that this wasn’t right. And, as a result of her talk with Jack, the whole situation had become more dangerous and distressing, for while it was easy to say no to Larry while thinking of her responsibility to Jack, it would not be so in the future. Listening to him, she had realized that, though beside Larry he gave an impression of lightness, physical and mental, he was really in every way the stronger man. She had noticed, even in the way he pulled himself up over a word, probing his own motives, that however little there might be of him, he was in complete command of it. What there was of him was all of a piece, all “steady,” but in Larry, as in Jim, under the apparent manliness there was a quaking bog of emotion that probably went back to their childhood loss. Jim, the more instinctive of the two, would have married and made a home for himself to take the place of the home he had lost, but Larry wanted a brother as well as a wife—a brother probably more than a wife—and that, he could only find in her. It was unhealthy, as Jack said, but maybe because of that it attracted her more.

“What’s wrong, dear?” her mother asked her over breakfast next morning. “Did something upset you?”

“Och, it’s only Larry,” Hilda said with an excuse for a smile. “He asked me to marry him.”

“Marry him?” echoed her mother, feeling that the statement required a dramatic response but uncertain what form it should take. “There’s a surprise for you!” she said, clasping her hands, in case the required response should be joyous. “He didn’t take long,” she added, to protect her flank.

“Oh, it’s nothing,” said Hilda. “Only nice feeling. He knows how fond we were of Jim. But it brought things back.”

“He shouldn’t do a thing like that, though,” said her mother, realizing at last what form her response should take. “What did you tell him?”

“Oh, just that I was engaged to Jack, of course,” Hilda said wearily, repeating an argument that had begun to lose its force for her. She knew now that she needed Jack more than he needed her. Then she said something that surprised herself almost as much as it did her mother. “Would Dad and you mind if I did marry him, Mum?”

Her mother, she could see, did not know what to say.

“Did you fight with Jack?” she asked, wiping her hands in her apron.

“Och, no, Mum, nothing like that. I’d never ask a better man than Jack.”

“Of course, I couldn’t say, dear,” her mother said, seeing that she was not going to expand on her relations with Jack. “I suppose it’s a matter for yourself. We wouldn’t know how you felt.”

“I don’t know myself what way I feel,” said Hilda with a feeble smile. “I can’t make up my mind. Jack says ’tis unhealthy, that it’s wrong to keep thinking of the dead like that.”

“We can’t help thinking of the dead, child,” her mother said with a sudden touch of sternness. “The older we grow, the more we have to live with them. But this has nothing to do with Jim. It’s not Jim you’d be marrying.”

“Oh, dear!” said Hilda, “if only it was as easy as that to separate them!”

By this time she had a nervous headache and had to lie down. She was so scared by the prospect of meeting Larry that she almost asked her mother to go to the hotel and put it off. Yet when she opened the front door that evening and saw him on the steps with the permanent slight stoop of a man who is an inch or two too tall, she was so relieved that she suddenly found herself becoming joyous and even silly. Her mother noticed the change in her, and her own manner towards him became warmer.

“Where will we go, Larry?” she asked almost flirtatiously as they went down the little street. “As it’s your last night we ought to go somewhere nice.”

“It was nice enough where we went the last time,” he said.

“No, Larry,” she said, shaking her head. “We won’t go where we went last time. It’s wrong. Jack says it, and I agree with him. You can’t like me just because I was Jim’s girl, and I can’t like you because you’re his brother. We have our own lives to live.”

As she said it she gasped, because she realized that she had already made up her mind, and the relief was enormous. She knew that Jack was right, and that it was all unhealthy, but she also knew that she could deal with it. Now it was only as Jim’s girl, the one living link with his brother, and beyond that with a mother and home he had forgotten, that he cared for her, and it might be years before he came to care for her as the sort of girl she was, but that way she liked him better. Like all earnest people, Hilda went through life looking for a cause, and now he was her cause, and she would serve him the best way she knew.


My friend Charlie Ford was a commercial traveller in the office-equipment business, and one of the nicest commercials I have known. And, in spite of all the propaganda against them, you meet some very nice commercials. At their best, they are artists in their own right—people who make something out of nothing.

Charlie had only one drawback from my point of view, which was that he could never resist trying to sell me things, just for practice. And they did not have to be office chairs or any other sort of commodity. That is the sign of the true salesman; it isn’t the money alone that appeals to him, it is salesmanship for its own sweet sake.

Charlie, for instance, was from Connemara, and wild horses wouldn’t have dragged him back to it, but I could not mention Connemara over a drink without Charlie’s trying to sell it to me, and the tears would come in his eyes and a catch would come in his voice, and the Mother Machrees and the evening rosaries would get so colourful that nothing but blasphemy would put a stop to them. Then he would smile sadly at me, put a fat hand firmly on my shoulder, and tell me in a deep voice that he wished I did not talk like a wrecker. I wasn’t a real wrecker, of course, not at heart. Other people might think so, but he knew that at heart I loved all those beautiful things as much as he did, and concealed it only out of modesty. And I declare to my God, before I knew where I was, Charlie would be selling me a substitute self with a heart of gold that the manufacturers would replace within two years unless it gave perfect satisfaction. All the same Charlie liked me. I was a sort of laboratory for him, and whenever he succeeded in selling me anything like a new movie or a funny story, it set him up for a week.

Charlie was engaged to a girl called Celia Halligan. Celia was handsome; she had a dirty tongue and an attitude of cynical but good-humoured contempt for men, yet even she could not resist the coloured enlargement of herself that Charlie presented to her in a gilt frame, and he had only to give her a sweet, sad smile to make her skip demurely back into it.

Now, one night the two of them were motoring back from a pub outside Rathfarnham, cruising gently down the mountain-side, admiring the toylike, whitewashed cottages above them, and the valley of the city far below with the lamp-lit prow of Howth thrusting out into Dublin Bay, when all at once as they turned a corner, there was a jaunting-car ahead of them, going hoppity-bump, with no lights on the wrong side of the road. Charlie was a first-rate driver and boasted that he had been driving for fifteen years without an accident. He did not rush his car into the ditch or try to pass out. Instead, he put his brakes on hard and ran the bonnet of his car under the well of the jaunting-car without doing any more damage than to raise the driver and pitch him gently forward on the back of his old horse. The bump was so slight that the jarvey’s bowler hat still remained on his head, and the horse, who had all the sense of responsibility required by the situation, stopped dead with the jarvey plastered affectionately across his back, and waited for somebody to do something.

Then presence of mind came to the jarvey’s assistance: he judged the road and the steadiness of the horse and the intentions of the driver behind him and slid gently to the ground. It was as neat a bit of work as Charlie had seen in years. By the time Charlie reached him, he was doing a convincing take-off of unconsciousness that deceived even Celia.

“Is that fellow dead, Cha?” she asked anxiously.

“No, dear, only stunned,” Charlie replied comfortingly, but it was he who felt stunned. He knew he had a ripe and subtle intelligence to deal with. Then he cursed softly because he heard two cyclists talking as they pushed their bikes up the hill. The jarvey heard them, too, and lay doggo till all the proper questions had been asked. Then he opened his red-rimmed eyes and asked feebly:

“Where am [?”

“In the presence of witnesses,” retorted Charlie, who couldn’t resist it. The jarvey, a small man with a thin mournful face that had the blue glaze of the confirmed alcoholic all over it, looked at him reproachfully. Charlie could smell the whiskey off him from the side of the road.

When they had found a farm-labourer to look after the horse and car, the jarvey, whose name turned out to be Clarke, permitted himself to be driven to hospital, and an over-conscientious medical student decided to detain him for the night, while Charlie went off to report the accident to the guards with a certain sour satisfaction at the thought of the presence of mind that enabled a boozy little man like that to seize on a moment’s opportunity and turn it into a career.

And a career it looked like becoming. The solicitor for the insurance company, an old friend of Charlie’s called Cronin, agreed to defend the case, but this was mainly on Charlie’s account, because Charlie felt about his driving as good women feel about their reputation. You could call Charlie a sex-fiend and he only smiled; you could call him a swindler and he positively chortled; but suggest that he hadn’t taken proper precautions at a corner and you were in danger of losing a friend.

As the weeks went by, the jarvey’s case grew like a masterpiece in the mind of a great artist. It looked as if it would never stop. After months he was still in bed, because, according to himself, he got reelings when he rose.

“Ah, it’s the girl,” said Cronin, a cheerful, noisy little man who was never depressed about anything except the law.

“What has Celia to do with it?” Charlie asked sternly.

“You’ll soon see when they ask you what you were doing with her in the car,” said Cronin gloomily. “I told you to let the case go.”

“But that’s scandalous,” Charlie said hotly. “I’m not the man to do that sort of thing when I’m driving.”

“You’re not, like hell,” said Cronin cynically, leaving Charlie uncertain whether to take it as a compliment or not.

Altogether it was a shocking experience for Charlie. He was a man of eager temperament, not the sort to have a thing like that hanging over him for months, and he had the illusion, common to eager men, that all he had to do to speed it up was to call regularly on Cronin, whose office was in a little lane off Dame Street, a sunless hole where Charlie could not imagine any prosperous professional man choosing to work. Usually he had to wait for half an hour in the outer office with secretaries as unattractive as the room, and passed the time in trying to sell them his version of the accident. When finally he was admitted and learned that nothing had happened, he burst into a long tirade to which Cronin listened, sitting back in his chair balancing a pencil and looking bored and depressed. Charlie could not stop trying to sell you things, and again he tried to sell Cronin the scandalous story of the drunken jarvey, and the idea that he should bring a counter-suit against the jarvey, but he was beginning to see that you couldn’t sell a lawyer a safety-pin even if his braces had burst.

“You don’t understand these things, Charlie,” Cronin said wearily, leaning farther back in his chair and playing patiently with his pencil. “Linnane isn’t going to do anything like that. This is a jury case, and juries are trickier than judges, and judges are trickier than the devil. You’re a fine-looking, well-dressed man, and, by your own account, this jarvey is a shrimp. Now, what happens if you get a jury of shrimps is that they’ll decide the poor shrimp in the box is entitled to compensation for life from the insurance company. They can damn well afford it. If you were a shrimp you’d feel the same. Forget about the booze!”

By the time the case came up for hearing, Charlie was feeling a wreck. For two nights he hadn’t slept, going carefully over all the points on which the other side might try to trap him, and all the sins of his past life that they might resurrect against him. Counsel for the jarvey was an old acquaintance of Celia’s called Michael Dunne, and Charlie hoped that on this account he might show some consideration. On the other hand, if he decided not to do so, he would know more about Charlie than was desirable. It was a bad business. He went to court with Celia, feeling like death, and saying in a dull voice that he didn’t know if he’d ever be able to drive again. It would hang over him for the rest of his days, and it was blackmail, and everyone knew it was blackmail, but the state permitted it, and the lawyers encouraged it. Celia said nothing at all. She thought it would have been cheaper to buy off the jarvey for a few pounds. She was going to a dance that night with another man. She had asked Charlie to bring her, but he had refused. He even thought it heartless of her, considering that he was a man with no future. And there at the other end of the seat from him was the jarvey who had blasted his career, looking sick and resigned, his bowler hat on the seat beside him.

Charlie leant forward over the seat ahead of him as he concentrated on the first case, and his depression grew because he didn’t understand a word of it. The judge was an oldish man with pink cheeks and white hair. He seemed to be deaf, and irritated by everybody. Then the jarvey’s case was called, and Michael Dunne rose. He was a tall, ascetic-looking man with a neat black moustache and big dark glasses. To his alarm, Charlie noticed that no considerations of friendship seemed to restrain him in the remarks he made.

The jarvey himself was called and went slowly up the courtroom, looking as though he might drop dead at any moment. He answered questions in an ailing voice that was barely audible from the jury-box. He had the jarvey’s technique of plausibility, and treated the court as if it were a party of American tourists he was taking on a conducted tour of the Lakes of Killarney. He pointed to the places where he felt the pains, as though they were of historic importance. As for reward, he indicated that he was an unworldly little man with no notion of the value of money, and he left it entirely to the natural generosity of his fares. Charlie began to realize that Cronin and Linnane had known their own business. He recognized the technique and despised it. It was the technique of the poor mouth.

Fortunately, it became obvious after a quarter of an hour that the judge thought he was trying another case and was confusing the jarvey with a truck-driver who had been hit by a railway wagon. Michael Dunne in his attempt at getting his Lordship on to the right track went into convulsions of deference, almost suggesting that there wasn’t really much difference between a jaunting-car and a truck, but the judge wasn’t having any. He had been insulted, and he was going to take it out on somebody. He got down behind his bench as though he were taking up a firing position from which to decimate the court.

“I’d be very pleased if Counsel would realize that I still have my wits about me,” he snapped.

“I beg your Lordship’s pardon,” said Dunne. “I wasn’t suggesting for an instant—”

“And, though I may not be quite as young as Counsel, I still know the difference between a truck and a jaunting-car,” said the judge, and he still continued to make comments which ignored witness and counsel till the poor jarvey’s pose was completely broken down and he was yelling. The atmosphere of the conducted tour had been completely dissipated.

That did the trick. Charlie had been growing more and more disgusted, more and more terrified, as his own turn drew nearer. Then as he strolled slowly up the courtroom to the witness stand he had a sudden moment of revelation and joy. He recited the oath in a thrilling voice that made it perfectly clear that here at least was a man who knew the meaning of words. The judge glanced at him with the air of a child who sees a new toy. Charlie bowed very low to the judge, who was so astonished that he bowed back; then he bowed—not quite so low—to the jury, gave them a winning smile, and sat down, crossing his legs. In that moment of revelation he had seen that the wretched occupants of the court were distracted with boredom, and he knew that the only cure for boredom was to buy something. The whole country was mad with boredom because it had been brought up to count every penny. To express your faith in life it was necessary to buy a stake in the future.

So Charlie proceeded to sell the jury the story which no lawyer would buy. He took Linnane’s questions for what they should have been rather than what they were, and disposed of them as though they were no more than the promptings of a good listener. He demonstrated exactly how the supposed accident had occurred, using his hands, his feet, and his magnificent voice, till even the judge turned into a possible customer. He threw in amusing little side-swipes at the County Council and the condition of the roads, at the habits of Irish motorists, and—completely ignoring Cronin’s warning—at the jarvey’s drunkenness as well. Dunne was on his feet at once, protesting, but the judge had still not forgiven him his unmannerly correction and snubbed him. He said that Charlie struck him as an honest and observant witness who told his story in a straightforward and, above all, audible way.

Even when Dunne got up to cross-examine, Charlie did not feel in the least rattled. On the contrary. He no longer saw Dunne as an inquisitor with subtle devices for forcing him to reveal the secrets of his past life, but as a wrecker, a man without confidence, the sort of small-town expert who sneers at even the finest office furniture. Charlie put on the air of melancholy suitable to such a mean-spirited wretch. Dunne, who had a trick of looking away as though in search of inspiration, tried to suggest to Charlie that he was speaking from depths of meditation that no one had ever reached.

“Mr. Ford,” he said, looking at Charlie contemptuously over the big horn-rimmed spectacles, “you ventured to suggest that my client was under the influence of liquor on the night in question. Now, before we go any further, perhaps you wouldn’t mind enlightening the court as to where you and your lady friend were coming from?”

“Not in the least,” Charlie replied sweetly. “We were coming from the Red Cow.”

“The Red Cow?” repeated Dunne, who was under the illusion that to look at the ceiling and repeat a name as though he had never heard it before was a good way of making it seem significant. “Would I be correct in assuming that the Red Cow is a hostelry?”

“You’d hardly be correct in assuming it, Mr. Dunne,” Charlie replied with quiet amusement. “Assumptions are made about things of which we have no direct knowledge.”

There was a chuckle from the jury-box at this, and Dunne grew red and went on in a hurry.

“And did you have some—um—refreshment there?”

“Yes, sir,” Charlie said meekly. “That is generally my purpose in going to a bar.”

Dunne pointed at the judge.

“Tell my lord and the jury how many drinks you had.”

“Three,” Charlie said steadily. “You see, Mr. Dunne, it was a very hot night, and I’d been driving for a good part of the day, so I was rather thirsty.”

“And you ask the court to believe that after three drinks—on a very hot night—when you’d been driving for a good part of the day, as you’ve admitted—you were still capable of driving a car properly?”

“I ask the court to believe that if I wasn’t capable of driving properly, I wouldn’t be driving at all,” said Charlie sternly.

“The guards made no test to ascertain if you were capable of driving?”

“I presume the guards are aware that there is no test known to science that will prove the existence of lemonade in the system,” replied Charlie.

Of course, Charlie didn’t know whether there was or not, nor was there much danger of his being examined about it if there was. For several of the jurymen laughed outright, and even the judge gave a smile of glee. His own style of wit was rather like that.

“You mean you drink nothing but lemonade?” asked Dunne, who was beginning to lose his temper, and with good reason, for it was not often that he had a witness like Charlie to deal with. But Charlie was beginning to get tired of him; he knew that if he was to complete his sale he must crush this knowing customer, so he paused a moment before replying.

“I mean nothing of the sort, Mr. Dunne,” he said gravely. “I mean that a man who drinks anything stronger when he’s in charge of a car is a dangerous lunatic.”

“An exceedingly proper remark,” said the judge, nodding four times and knocking his bench in approval. Nothing goes down so well in a court of law as a well-aimed platitude.

Dunne had given up hope of shaking this unruly man, and contented himself with a few perfunctory questions intended to suggest that Charlie and Celia had been too busy in the car to pay attention to the road.

“This young lady and you are friends?” asked Dunne.

“No, Mr. Dunne,” Charlie said gently. “Just engaged.”

“And you hadn’t your arm about her shoulder?”

“Ah, no, Mr. Dunne,” Charlie said wearily. “You and I ought to be beyond the adolescent stage.”

This produced a real roar, and after a few further efforts Dunne sat down and pretended to be absorbed in his papers. Charlie bowed again to the judge and jury, and returned to his seat with the transfigured air of a man who has been to the altar. Cronin winked at him, but Charlie failed to return the wink. Instead he smiled wanly and, closing his eyes, covered them with his fat hand. Charlie, of course, knew as well as Cronin did that the case was in the bag. Charlie, the universal salesman, had sold his story to the jury, and nothing short of an earthquake would break the spell he had woven about them.

But then it was Celia’s turn, and Charlie’s heart sank when he saw that she had learned nothing from his example. Instead of taking the oath as though she had been waiting months for it, she had it extracted from her word by word like teeth. She looked beautiful and angry and, what was worse, alarmed, and Charlie knew within a few moments that her unhappiness was spreading to the courtroom. She replied to Linnane’s friendly questions as though he were cross-examining her, and when Dunne rose she gave him a positive scowl. Charlie hoped that as an old friend of the family he might show some sense of decency, but he was still smarting under Charlie’s thrusts.

“And were you also drinking lemonade, Miss Halligan?” he asked with his shoulders hunched while he jingled the coins in his trousers pockets.

“Ah, I was not,” she snapped with a shrug. “I wouldn’t touch the blooming stuff.”

Charlie had noticed the impressive effect of a platitude; now he noticed the effect of a simple statement of prejudice. A shudder seemed to go through the court.

“Tell the court what you were drinking.”

“I was drinking whiskey, of course,” she replied in a shrill, shocked tone. “What do you think?”

Dunne bent forward and looked at her satanically over his glasses.

“I have no opinion, Miss Halligan,” he said reprovingly. “I merely wish to find out if, at the time of this accident, you weren’t a little—elevated, shall we say?”

“Is it after three small ones?” she asked incredulously. “What do you take me for?”

At this point Linnane tried to go to Celia’s rescue, but the judge had taken an instant dislike to her. The judge lived in hope that one of these days he would find one of those modern girls before him, so that he could say what he really thought about them. He knew it would make headlines, and, like most judges, he longed for headlines. He had a strong suspicion that Celia was a modern young woman. He told her that this was a court of law, and he would not permit her to reply to counsel in that impudent fashion, at which Celia, who had no intention of being impudent, looked mutinous as well as angry. He held the case up for several minutes to glower at her, waiting for a back-answer that would give the opportunity he wanted. Dunne knew that the signals were set at “clear” for him, and, though Linnane again intervened, the judge snorted that the witness appeared to be one of those modern young women, so she probably expected to be dealt with in a modern way.

Charlie covered his face entirely. To give him his due, he went through agonies. As Dunne framed each question, he answered it in his own mind, tossing off the awkward ones with light feminine banter, lingering gravely over those that raised moral issues, smiling, frowning, and even prepared to shed a tear behind his hands. And on top of the ideal reply came the real one, all in one tone, bewildered and maddened, and sounding as though it came from the lips of some international courtesan. Dunne made her admit that she was often at the Red Cow, that she had gone there for years with different men, that she had been kissing Charlie in the car before they started; and he almost trapped her into saying that she was in no state to describe what had happened. “Salesmanship!” Charlie thought despairingly. “That’s what the girl lacks. Salesmanship!”

She came down off the stand sulky and furious. Charlie rose and stepped out into the passageway with an angelic, welcoming smile to let her into the seat beside him, and tried to put his hand comfortingly on hers, but she pushed past him as though he were to blame for everything and stalked out of the court. He had to wait for the verdict, and, though it represented victory for him, it brought him no satisfaction. It even left him wondering why he had gone to all that trouble instead of allowing the insurance company to buy off the jarvey.

Next morning in town he ran into a gossipy woman who had heard all about the case and wanted to talk of it.

“And I saw Celia at the dance last night,” she went on joyously. “And I’ll give you three guesses who she was dancing with.”

“Who, Babe?” asked Charlie, kidding her on.

“Michael Dunne!”

“Dunne?” Charlie asked incredulously. “Are you sure, Babe?”

“Sure, I saw her, I tell you. He went up and talked to her, and they were laughing and joking, and the next thing was I saw them dancing. Now, what do you make of that?”

“I don’t know what to make of it, Babe,” Charlie said, shaking his head gravely. “I’d hardly have expected it of her.”

But Celia gave him no satisfaction at all. She seemed surprised and irritated by his attitude.

“But why wouldn’t I dance with him?” she asked. “Sure, he only did what he was paid for, the same as anyone else. He’d do the same thing to his own mother. Did you ever know a lawyer that wouldn’t?”

But, reasonable as she made it sound, it carried no conviction to Charlie. Reason had never yet made a woman friendly to a man she had cause to dislike. Could it be that she hadn’t really resented Dunne’s tone? That she might even have enjoyed it?

He was still more upset when she returned the ring and told him she was marrying Dunne. Charlie was a rational man, and, like all rational men, took the irrational hard. It wasn’t only the loss of Celia that hurt him, though that was bad enough; it wasn’t even the unfairness of her going to the Red Cow with Dunne, as he saw her do with his own eyes. It was the unreasonableness of it all. He took to the drink, and for months it looked as if he would never be himself again. Woebegone and haggard, he went over every detail of it with his friends a hundred times. But gradually, as he repeated it, he began to realize that it was an excellent story, a story you could sell to prospective customers. “Did I ever tell you,” he would ask with a wistful smile, “how I won the case and lost the girl?”

Suddenly, Charlie was himself again. Art had triumphed over Nature. It was the old story—“Out of my great sorrows I made little songs.”


Ned MacCarthy, the teacher in a village called Abbeyduff, was wakened one morning by his sister-in-law. She was standing over him with a cynical smile and saying in a harsh voice:

“Wake up! ’Tis started.”

“What’s started, Sue?” Ned asked wildly, jumping up in bed with an anguished air.

“Why?” she asked dryly. “Are you after forgetting already? You’d better dress and go for the doctor.”

“Oh, the doctor!” sighed Ned, remembering at once why he was sleeping alone in the little back room and why that unpleasant female who so obviously disapproved of him was in the house.

He dressed in a hurry, said a few words of encouragement to his wife, talked to the children while swallowing a cup of tea, and got out the old car. He was a sturdy man in his early forties with fair hair and pale grey eyes, nervous and excitable. He had plenty to be excitable about— the house, for instance. It was a fine house, an old shooting lodge, set back at a distance of two fields from the road, with a lawn in front leading to the river and steep gardens climbing the wooded hills behind. It was, in fact, an ideal house, the sort he had always dreamed of, where Kitty could keep a few hens and he could dig the garden and get in a bit of shooting. But scarcely had he settled in when he realized it had all been a mistake. A couple of rooms in town would have been better. The loneliness of the long evenings when dusk had settled on the valley was something he had never even imagined.

He had lamented it to Kitty, who had suggested the old car, but even this had its drawbacks because the car demanded as much attention as a baby. When Ned was alone in it he chatted to it encouragingly; when it stopped because he had forgotten to fill the tank he kicked it viciously, as if it were a wicked dog, and the villagers swore that he had actually been seen stoning it. This, coupled with the fact that he sometimes talked to himself when he hadn’t the car to talk to, had given rise to the legend that he had a slate loose.

He drove down the lane and across the little footbridge to the main road, and then stopped before the public house at the corner, which his friend Tom Hurley owned.

“Anything you want in town, Tom?” he shouted from the car.

“What’s that, Ned?” replied a voice from within, and Tom himself, a small, round, russet-faced man, came out with his wrinkled grin.

“I have to go into town. I wondered, was there anything you wanted?”

“No, no, Ned, thanks, I don’t think so,” replied Tom in his nervous way, all the words trying to come out together. “All we wanted was fish for the dinner, and the Jordans are bringing that.”

“That stuff!” exclaimed Ned, making a face. “I’d sooner ’twas them than me.”

“Och, isn’t it the devil, Ned?” Tom spluttered with a similar expression of disgust. “The damn smell hangs round the shop all day. But what the hell else can you do on a Friday? You going for a spin?”

“No,” replied Ned with a sigh. “It’s Kitty. I have to call the doctor.”

“Oh, I see,” said Tom, beginning to beam. His expression exaggerated almost to caricature whatever emotion his interlocutor might be expected to feel. “Ah, please God, it’ll go off all right. Come in and have a drink.”

“No, thanks, Tom,” Ned said with resignation. “I’d better not.”

“Ah, hell to your soul, you will,” fussed Tom. “It won’t take you two minutes. Hard enough it was for me to keep you off it the time the first fellow arrived.”

“That’s right, Tom,” Ned said in surprise as he left the car and followed Tom into the pub. “I’d forgotten about that. Who was it was here?”

“Ah, God!” moaned Tom, “you had half the countryside in here. Jack Martin and Owen Hennessey, and that publican friend of yours from town—Cronin, ay, Cronin. There was a dozen of ye here. The milkman found ye next morning, littering the floor, and ye never even locked the doors after ye! Ye could have had my license endorsed on me.”

“Do you know, Tom,” Ned said with a complacent smile, “I’d forgotten about that completely. My memory isn’t what it was. I suppose we’re getting old.”

“Ah, well,” Tom said philosophically, pouring out a large drink for Ned and a small one for himself, “’tis never the same after the first. Isn’t it astonishing, Ned, the first,” he added in his eager way, bending over the counter, “what it does to you? God, you feel as if you were beginning life again. And by the time the second comes, you’re beginning to wonder will the damn thing ever stop. ... God forgive me for talking,” he whispered, beckoning over his shoulder with a boyish smile. “Herself wouldn’t like to hear me.”

“’Tis true just the same, Tom,” Ned said broodingly, relieved at understanding a certain gloom he had felt during the preceding weeks. “It’s not the same. And that itself is only an illusion. Like when you fall in love, and think you’re getting the one woman in the world, while all the time it’s just one of Nature’s little tricks for making you believe you’re enjoying yourself when you’re only putting yourself wherever she wants you.”

“Ah, well,” said Tom with his infectious laugh, “they say it all comes back when you’re a grandfather.”

“Who the hell wants to be a grandfather?” asked Ned with a sniff, already feeling sorry for himself with his home upset, that unpleasant female in the house, and more money to be found.

He drove off, but his mood had darkened. It was a beautiful bit of road between his house and the town, with the river below him on the left, and the hills at either side with the first wash of green on them like an unfinished sketch, and, walking or driving, it was usually a delight to him because of the thought of civilization at the other end. It was only a little seaside town, but it had shops and pubs and villas with electric light, and a water supply that did not fold up in May, and there were all sorts of interesting people to be met there, from summer visitors to Government inspectors with the latest news from Dublin. But now his heart didn’t rise. He realized that the rapture of being a father does not repeat itself, and it gave him no pleasure to think of being a grandfather. He was decrepit enough as he was.

At the same time he was haunted by some memory of days when he was not decrepit, but careless and gay. He had been a Volunteer and roamed the hills for months with a column, wondering where he would spend the night. Then it had all seemed uncomfortable and dangerous enough, and, maybe like the illusion of regeneration at finding himself a father, it had been merely an illusion of freedom, but, even so, he felt he had known it and now knew it no more. It was linked in his mind with high hills and wide vistas, but now his life seemed to have descended into a valley like that he was driving along, with the river growing deeper and the hills higher as they neared the sea. He had descended into it by the quiet path of duty: a steady man, a sucker for responsibilities—treasurer of the Hurling Club, treasurer of the Republican Party, secretary for three other organizations. Bad! Bad! He shook his head reprovingly as he looked at the trees, the river, and the birds who darted from the hedges as he approached, and communed with the car.

“You’ve nothing to complain of, old girl,” he said encouragingly. “It’s all Nature. It gives you an illusion of freedom, but all the time it’s bending you to its own purposes as if you were only cows or trees.”

Being nervous, he didn’t like to drive through a town. He did it when he had to, but it made him flustered and fidgety so that he missed seeing whoever was on the streets, and the principal thing about a town was meeting people. He usually parked his car outside Cronin’s pub on the way in, and then walked the rest of the way. Larry Cronin was an old comrade of revolutionary days who had married into the pub.

He parked the car and went to tell Larry. This was quite unnecessary as Larry knew every car for miles around and was well aware of Ned’s little weakness, but it was a habit, and Ned was a man of more habits than he realized himself.

“I’m just leaving the old bus for half an hour, Larry,” he called through the door in a plaintive tone that conveyed regret for the inconvenience he was causing Larry and grief for the burden being put on himself.

“Come in, man, come in!” cried Larry, a tall, engaging man with a handsome face and a wide smile that was quite sincere if Larry liked you and damnably hypocritical if he didn’t. His mouth was like a show-case with the array of false teeth in it. “What the hell has you out at this hour of morning?”

“Oh, Nature, Nature,” said Ned with a laugh, digging his hands in his trousers pockets.

“How do you mean, Nature?” asked Larry, who did not understand the allusive ways of intellectuals but appreciated them none the less.

“Kitty, I mean,” Ned said. “I’m going to get the doctor. I told you she was expecting again.”

“Ah, the blessings of God on you!” Larry cried jovially. “Is this the third or the fourth? Christ, you lose count, don’t you? You might as well have a drop as you’re here. For the nerves, I mean. ’Tis hard on the nerves. That was a hell of a night we had the time the boy was born.”

“Wasn’t it?” said Ned, beaming at being reminded of something that seemed to have become a legend. “I was just talking to Tom Hurley about it.” .

“Ah, what the hell does Hurley know about it?” asked Larry, filling him out a drink in his lordly way. “The bloody man went to bed at two. That fellow is too cautious to be good. But Martin gave a great account of himself. Do you remember? The whole first act of Tosca, orchestra and all. Tell me, you didn’t see Jack since he was home?”

“Jack?” Ned exclaimed in surprise, looking up from his drink. (He felt easier in his mind now, being on the doctor’s doorstep.) “Was Jack away?”

“Arrah, Christ, he was,” said Larry, throwing his whole weight on the counter. “In Paris, would you believe it? He’s on the batter again, of course. Wait till you hear him on Paris! ’Tis only the mercy of God if the parish priest doesn’t get to hear of it. Martin would want to mind himself.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, Larry,” Ned said with sudden bitterness, not so much against Jack Martin as against Life itself. “Martin doesn’t have to mind himself. The parish priest will mind him. If an inspector comes snooping round while Martin is on it, Father Clery will be taking him out to look at antiquities.”

“Ah, ’tis the God’s truth for you,” Larry said in mournful disapproval. “But you or I couldn’t do it. Christ, man, we’d get slaughtered alive. “’Tisn’t worried you are about Kitty?” he asked in a gentler tone.

“Ah, no, Larry,” said Ned. “It’s not that. It’s just that at times like this a man feels himself of no importance. You know what I mean? A messenger boy would do as well. We’re all dragged down to the same level.”

“And damn queer we’d be if we weren’t,” said Larry with his good-natured smile. “Unless, that is, you’d want to have the bloody baby yourself.”

“Ah, it’s not only that, Larry,” Ned said irritably. “It’s not that at all. But a man can’t help thinking.”

“Why, then indeed, that’s true for you,” said Larry, who, as a result of his own experience in the pub, had developed a gloomy and philosophic view of human existence. After all, a man can’t be looking at schizophrenia for ten hours a day without feeling that Life isn’t simple. “And ’tis at times like this you notice it—men coming and going, like the leaves on the trees. Isn’t it true for me?”

But that wasn’t what Ned was thinking about at all. He was thinking of his lost youth and what had happened in it to turn him from a firebrand into a father.

“No, Larry, that’s not what I mean,” he said, drawing figures on the counter with the bottom of his glass. “It’s just that you can’t help wondering what’s after happening you. There were so many things you wanted to do that you didn’t do, and you wonder if you’d done them would it be different. And here you are, forty-odd, and your life is over and nothing to show for it! It’s as if when you married some good went out of you.”

“Small loss, as the fool said when he lost Mass,” retorted Larry, who had found himself a comfortable berth in the pub and lost his thirst for adventure.

“That’s the bait, of course,” Ned said with a grim smile. “That’s where Nature gets us every time.”

“Arrah, what the hell is wrong with Nature?” asked Larry. “When your first was born you were walking mad around the town, looking for people to celebrate it with. Now you sound as though you were looking for condolences. Christ, man, isn’t it a great thing to have someone to share your troubles and give a slap in the ass to, even if she does let the crockery fly once in a while? What the hell about an old bit of china?”

“That’s all very well, Larry,” Ned said, scowling, “if—if, mind—that’s.all it costs.”

“And what the hell else does it cost?” asked Larry. “Twenty-one meals a week and a couple of pounds of tea on the side. Sure, ’tis for nothing!”

“But is that all?” Ned asked fiercely. “What about the days on the column?”

“Ah, that was different, Ned,” Larry said with a sigh while his eyes took on a far-away look. “But, sure, everything was different then. I don’t know what the hell is after coming over the country at all.”

“The same thing that’s come over you and me,” said Ned. “Middle age. But we had our good times, even apart from that.”

“Oh, begod, we had, we had,” Larry admitted wistfully. “We could hop in a car and not come home for a fortnight if the fancy took us.”

“We could, man, we could,” said Larry, showing a great mouthful of teeth. “Like the time we went to the Junction Races and came back by Donegal. Ah, Christ, Ned, youth is a great thing. Isn’t it true for me?”

“But it wasn’t only youth,” cried Ned. “We had freedom, man. Now our lives are run for us by women the way they were when we were kids. This is Friday, and and what do I find? Hurley waiting for someone to bring home the fish. You’re waiting for the fish. I’ll go home to a nice plate of fish. One few words in front of an altar, and it’s fish for Friday the rest of our lives.”

“Still, Ned, there’s nothing nicer than a good bit of fish,” Larry said dreamily. “If ’tis well done, mind you. If ’tis well done. And ’tisn’t often you get it well done. I grant you that. God, I had some fried plaice in Kilkenny last week that had me turned inside out. I declare to God, if I stopped that car once I stopped it six times, and by the time I got home I was shaking like an aspen.”

“And yet I can remember you in Tramore, letting on to be a Protestant just to get bacon and eggs,” Ned said accusingly.

“Oh, that’s the God’s truth,” Larry said with a wondering grin. “I was a devil for meat, God forgive me. It used to make me mad, seeing the Protestants lowering it. And the waitress, Ned—do you remember the waitress that wouldn’t believe I was a Protestant till I said the Our Father the wrong way for her? She said I had too open a face for a Protestant. How well she’d know a thing like that about the Our Father, Ned?”

“A woman would know anything she had to know to make a man eat fish,” Ned said, rising with gloomy dignity. “And you may be reconciled to it, Larry, but I’m not. I’ll eat it because I’m damned with a sense of duty, and I don’t want to get Kitty into trouble with the neighbours, but with God’s help I’ll see one more revolution before I die if I have to swing for it.”

“Ah, well,” sighed Larry, “youth is a great thing, sure enough ... Coming, Hanna, coming!” he replied as a woman’s voice yelled from the bedroom above them. He gave Ned a smug wink to suggest that he enjoyed it, but Ned knew that that scared little rabbit of a wife of his would be wanting to know what all the talk was about his being a Protestant, and would then go to confession and tell the priest that her husband had said heretical prayers and ask him was it a reserved sin and should Larry go to the Bishop. It was no life, no life, Ned thought as he sauntered down the hill past the church. And it was a great mistake taking a drink whenever he felt badly about the country, because it always made the country seem worse.

Suddenly someone clapped him on the shoulder. It was Jack Martin, the vocational-school teacher, a small, plump, nervous man, with a baby complexion, a neat greying moustache, and big blue innocent eyes. Ned’s grim face lit up. Of all his friends, Martin was the one he warmed to most. He was a talented man and a good baritone. His wife had died a few years before and left him with two children, but he had never married again and had been a devoted, if over-anxious, father. Yet always two or three times a year, particularly approaching his wife’s anniversary, he went on a tearing drunk that left some legend behind. There was the time he had tried to teach Italian music to the tramp who played the penny whistle in the street, and the time his housekeeper had hidden his trousers and he had shinned down the drainpipe and appeared in the middle of town in pyjamas, bowing in the politest way possible to the ladies who passed.

“MacCarthy, you scoundrel!” he said delightedly in his shrill nasal voice, “you were hoping to give me the slip. Come in here one minute till I tell you something. God, you’ll die!”

“If you’ll just wait there ten minutes, Jack, I’ll be along to you,” Ned said eagerly. “There’s just one job, one little job I have to do, and then I’ll be able to give you my full attention.”

“Yes, but you’ll have one drink before you go,” Martin said cantankerously. “You’re not a messenger boy yet. One drink and I’ll release you on your own recognizances to appear when required. You’ll never guess where I was, Ned. I woke up there—as true as God!”

Ned, deciding good-humouredly that five minutes’ explanation in the bar was easier than ten minutes’ argument in the street, allowed himself to be steered to a table by the door. It was quite clear that Martin was “on it.” He was full of clockwork vitality, rushing to the counter for fresh drinks, fumbling for money, trying to carry glasses without spilling, and talking, talking, all the time. Ned beamed at him. Drunk or sober, he liked the man.

“Ned,” Martin burst out ecstatically, “I’ll give you three guesses where I was.”

“Let me see,” said Ned in mock meditation. “I suppose ’twould never be Paris?” and then laughed outright at Martin’s injured air.

“You can’t do anything in this town,” Martin said bitterly. “I suppose next you’ll be telling me about the women I met there.”

“No,” said Ned gravely, “it’s Father Clery who’ll be telling you about them—from the pulpit.”

“To hell with Clery!” snapped Martin. “No, Ned, this is se-e-e-rious. It only came to me in the past week. You and I are wasting our bloody time in this bloody country.”

“Yes, Jack,” said Ned, settling himself in his seat with sudden gravity, “but what else can you do with Time?”

“Ah, this isn’t philosophy, man,” Martin said testily. “This is—is se-e-e-rious, I tell you.”

“I know how serious it is, all right,’ Ned said complacently, “because I was only saying it to Larry Cronin ten minutes ago. Where the hell is our youth gone?”

“But that’s only waste of time, too, man,” Martin said impatiently. “You couldn’t call that youth. Drinking bad porter in pubs after closing time and listening to somebody singing “The Rose of Tralee.’ That’s not life, man.”

“No,” said Ned, nodding, “but what is life?”

“How the hell would I know?” asked Martin. “I suppose you have to go out and look for it the way I did. You’re not going to find the bloody thing here. You have to go south, where they have sunlight and wine and good cookery and women with a bit of go in them.”

“And don’t you think it would be the same thing there?” Ned asked relentlessly while Martin raised his eyes to the ceiling and moaned.

“Oh, God, dust and ashes! Dust and ashes! Don’t we get enough of that every Sunday from Clery? And Clery knows no more about it than we do.”

Now, Ned was very fond of Martin, and admired the vitality with which in his forties he still pursued a fancy, but all the same he could not let him get away with the simple-minded notion that life was merely a matter of topography.

“That is a way life has,” he pronounced oracularly. “You think you’re seeing it, and it turns out it was somewhere else at the time. It’s like women—the girl you lose is the one that could have made you happy. I suppose there are people in the south wishing they could be in some wild place like this—I admit it’s not likely, but I suppose it could happen. No, Jack, we might as well resign ourselves to the fact that, wherever the hell life was, it wasn’t where we were looking for it.”

“For God’s sake, man!” Martin exclaimed irritably. “You talk like a man of ninety-five.”

“I’m forty-two,” Ned said with quiet emphasis, “and I have no illusions left. You still have a few. Mind,” he went on with genuine warmth, “I admire you for it. You were never a fighting man like Cronin or myself, but you put up a better fight than either of us. But Nature has her claws in you as well. You’re light and airy now, but what way will you be this time next week? And even now,” he added threateningly, “even at this minute, you’re only that way because you’ve escaped from the guilt for a little while. You’ve got down the drainpipe and you’re walking the town in your night clothes, but sooner or later they’ll bring you back and make you put your trousers on.”

“But it isn’t guilt, Ned,” Martin interrupted. “It’s my stomach. I can’t keep it up.”

“It isn’t only your stomach, Jack,” Ned said triumphantly, having at last steered himself into the open sea of argument. “It’s not your stomach that makes you avoid me in the Main Street.”

“Avoid you?” Martin echoed, growing red. “When did I avoid you?”

“You did avoid me, Jack,” said Ned with a radiant smile of forgiveness. “I saw you, and, what’s more, you said it to Cronin. Mind,” he added generously, “I’m not blaming you. It’s not your fault. It’s the guilt. You’re pursued by guilt the way I’m pursued by a sense of duty, and they’ll bring the pair of us to our graves. I can even tell you the way you’ll die. You’ll be up and down to the chapel ten times a day for fear once wasn’t enough, with your head bowed for fear you’d catch a friend’s eye and be led astray, beating your breast, lighting candles, and counting indulgences, and every time you see a priest your face will light up as if he was a pretty girl, and you’ll raise your hat and say ‘Yes, Father,’ and ‘No, Father,’ and ‘Father, whatever you please.’ And it won’t be your fault. That’s the real tragedy of life, Jack—we reap what we sow.”

“I don’t know what the hell is after coming over you,” Martin said in bewilderment. “You—you’re being positively personal, MacCarthy. I never tried to avoid anybody. I resent that statement. And the priests know well enough the sort I am. I never tried to conceal it.”

“I know, Jack, I know,” Ned said gently, swept away by the flood of his own melancholy rhetoric, “and I never accused you of it. I’m not being personal, because it’s not a personal matter. It’s Nature working through you. It works through me as well, only it gets me in a different way. I turn every damn thing into a duty, and in the end I’m fit for nothing. And I know the way I’ll die too. I’ll disintegrate into a husband, a father, a schoolmaster, a local librarian, and fifteen different sort of committee officials, and none of them with justification enough to remain alive—unless I die on a barricade.”

“What barricade?” asked Martin, who found all this hard to follow.

“Any barricade,” said Ned wildly. “I don’t care what ’tis for so long as ’tis a fight. I don’t want to be a messenger boy. I’m not even a good one. Here I am, arguing with you in a pub instead of doing what I was sent to do. Whatever the hell that was,” he added with a hearty laugh as he realized that for the moment—only for the moment, of course—he had forgotten what it was. “Well, that beats everything,” he said with a grin. “But you see what I mean. What duty does for you. I’m after forgetting what I came for.”

“Ah, that’s only because it wasn’t important,” said Martin, who was anxious to talk of Paris.

“That’s where you’re wrong again, Jack,” said Ned, really beginning to enjoy the situation. “Maybe ’twas of no importance to us but it was probably of great importance to Nature. It’s we that aren’t important. What was the damn thing? My memory has gone to hell. One moment. I have to close my eyes and empty my mind. That’s the only way I have of beating it.”

He closed his eyes and lay back limply in his seat, though even through his self-induced trance he smiled lightly at the absurdity of it all.

“No good,” he said, starting out of it briskly. “It’s an extraordinary thing, the way it disappears as if the ground opened and swallowed it. And there’s nothing you can do. “’Twill come back of its own accord, and there won’t be rhyme nor reason to that either. I was reading an article about a German doctor who says you forget because it’s too unpleasant to think about.”

“It’s not a haircut?” Martin asked helpfully, but Ned, a tidy man, just shook his head.

“Or clothes?” Martin went on. “Clothes are another great thing with them.”

“No,” Ned said frowning. “I’m sure ’twas nothing for myself.”

“Or for the kids? Shoes or the like?”

“Something flashed across my mind just then,” murmured Ned.

“If it’s not that it must be groceries.”

“I don’t see how it could,” Ned said argumentatively. “Williams delivers them every week, and they’re always the same.”

“In that case,” Martin said flatly, “it’s bound to be something to eat. They’re always forgetting things—bread or butter or milk.”

“I suppose so,” Ned said in bewilderment, “but I’m damned if I know what. Jim!” he called to the barman. “If you were sent on a message today, what would you say ‘twould be?”

“Fish, Mr. Mac,” the barman replied promptly. “Every Friday.”

“Fish!” repeated Martin exultantly. “The very thing!”

“Fish?” repeated Ned, feeling that some familiar chord had been struck. “I suppose it could be. I know I offered to bring it to Tom Hurley, and I was having a bit of an argument with Larry Cronin about it. I remember he said he rather liked it.”

“Like it?” cried Martin. “I can’t stand the damn stuff, but the housekeeper has to have it for the kids.”

“Ah, ’tis fish, all right, Mr. Mac,” the barman said knowingly. “In an hour’s time you wouldn’t be able to forget it with the smell around the town.”

“Well, obviously,” Ned said, resigning himself to it, “it has something to do with fish. It may not be exactly fish, but it’s something like it.”

“Whether it is or not, she’ll take it as kindly meant,” said Martin comfortingly. “Like flowers. Women in this country seem to think they’re alike.”

“It’s extraordinary,” said Ned as they went out. “We have minds we have less control of than we have of our cars. Wouldn’t you think with all their modern science they’d find some way of curing a memory like that?”

Two hours later the two friends, more loquacious than ever, drove up to Ned’s house for lunch. “Mustn’t forget the fish,” Ned said as he reached back in the car for it. At that moment he heard the wail of a new-born infant and went very white. “What the hell is that, Ned?” Martin asked in alarm. “That, Martin,” said Ned, “is the fish, I’m afraid.” “I won’t disturb you, now, Ned,” Martin said hastily, getting out of the car. “I’ll get a snack from Tom Hurley.” “Courage, man!” said Ned frowningly. “Here you are and here you’ll stop. But why fish, Martin? That’s what I can’t understand. Why did I think it was fish?”


Denis’s school was in the heart of the country, miles from anywhere, and this gave the teachers an initial advantage because before a boy even got to the railway station, he had the prefects on his track. Two fellows Denis knew once got as far as Mellin, a town ten miles off, intending to join the British Army, but, like fools, the first thing they did in Mellin was to go to a hotel, so they were caught in bed in the middle of the night by prefects and brought back. It was reported that they had been flogged on their knees in front of the picture of the Crucifixion in the hall, but no one was ever able to find out the truth about that. Denis thought they must have been inspired by the legend of two fellows who did once actually get on a boat for England and were never heard of afterwards, but that was before his time, and in those days escapes were probably easier. By the time he got there, it was said there was a telescope mounted on the tower and that the prefects took turns at watching for fellows trying to get away.

You could understand that, of course, for the fellows were all rough, the sons of small farmers who smoked and gambled and took a drink whenever they got a chance of one. As his mother said, it wasn’t a good school, but what could she do, and the small allowance she got from his father? By this time she and his father were living apart.

But one day a new boy came up and spoke to Denis. His name was Francis Cummins, and he came from Dunmore, where Denis’s mother was now living. He wasn’t in the least like the other fellows. He was a funny solemn kid with a head that was too big for his body and a great flow of talk. It seemed that his people intended him for the priesthood, and you could see that he’d make a good sort of priest, for he never wanted to do anything wrong, like breaking out, or smoking, or playing cards, and he was a marvel at music. You had only to whistle a tune to him, and he could play it after on the piano.

Even the toughs in school let Francis alone. He was a fellow you couldn’t get into a wax, no matter how you tried. He took every insult with a smile, as if he couldn’t believe you were serious, so that there was no satisfaction in trying to make him mad. And from the first day he almost pursued Denis. The other fellows in Denis’s gang did not like it because if he saw them doing anything they shouldn’t be doing he started at once to lecture them, exactly like a prefect, but somehow Denis found it almost impossible to quarrel with him. It was funny the way you felt towards a fellow from your own place in a school like that, far from everywhere. And they did not know the feeling that came over Denis at times when he thought of Dunmore and his home and Martha, for all that he was forever fighting with her. Sometimes he would dream of it at night, and wake up thinking of it, and all that day it would haunt him in snatches till he felt like throwing himself on his bed and bawling. And that wasn’t possible either, with forty kids to a room, and the beds packed tight in four rows.

There was also another reason for his toleration of a sissy like Cummins. Every week of Cummins’s life he got a parcel from home, and it was always an astonishment to Denis, for his parents sent him tinned meat, tinned fruit, sardines, and everything. Now, Denis was always hungry. The school food wasn’t much at the best of times, and because his mother couldn’t afford the extras, he never got rashers for breakfast as most of the others did. His father visited him regularly and kept on inquiring in a worried way if he was all right, but Denis had been warned not to complain to him, and the pound or two he gave Denis never lasted more than a couple of days. When he was not dreaming of home, he dreamt of food. Cummins always shared his parcels with Denis, and when Denis grew ashamed of the way he always cadged from Cummins, it was a sop to his conscience that Cummins seemed to enjoy it as much as he did. Cummins lectured him like an old school-mistress, and measured it all out, down to that last candy.

“I’ll give you one slice of cake now,” he would say in his cheerful argumentative way.

“Ah, come on!” Denis would growl eyeing it hungrily. “You won’t take it with you.”

“But if I give it to you now you’ll only eat it all,” Cummins would cry. “Look, if I give you one slice now, and another slice tomorrow, and another on Sunday, you’ll have cake three days instead of one.”

“But what good will that be if I’m still hungry?” Denis would shout.

“But you’ll only be hungrier tomorrow night,” Cummins would say in desperation at his greed. “You’re a queer fellow, Denis,” he would chatter on. “You’re always the same. “’Tis always a feast or a famine with you. If you had your own way you’d never have anything at all. You see I’m only speaking for your good, don’t you?”

Denis had no objection to Cummins’s speaking for his good so long as he got the cake, as he usually did. You could see from the way Cummins was always thinking of your good that he was bound to be a priest. Sometimes it went too far even for Denis, like the day the two of them were passing the priests’ orchard and he suddenly saw that for once there wasn’t a soul in sight. At the same moment he felt the hunger-pain sweep over him like a fever.

“Keep nix now, Cummins,” he said, beginning to shin up the wall.

“What are you going to do, Denis?” Cummins asked after him in a frenzy of anxiety.

“I only want a couple of apples,” Denis said, jumping from the top of the wall and running towards the trees. He heard a long, loud wail from the other side of the wall.

“Denis, you’re not going to steal them? Don’t steal them, Denis, please don’t steal them!”

But by this time Denis was up in the fork of the tree where the biggest, reddest apples grew. He heard his name called again, and saw that Cummins had scrambled up onto the wall as well, and was sitting astride it with real tears in his eyes.

“Denis,” he bawled, “what’ll I say if I’m caught?”

“Shut up, you fool, or you will get us caught,” Denis snarled back at him.

“But, Denis,Denis, it’s a sin!”

“It’s a what?”

“It’s a sin, Denis. I know it’s only a venial sin, but venial sins lead to mortal ones. Denis, I’ll give you the rest of my cake if you come away. Honest, I will.”

Denis didn’t bother to reply, but he was raging. He finished packing apples wherever he had room for them in his clothes, and then climbed slowly back over the wall.

“Cummins,” he said fiercely, “if you do that again I’m going to kill you.”

“But it’s true, Denis,” Cummins said, wringing his hands distractedly. “’Tis a sin, and you know ’tis a sin, and you’ll have to tell it in Confession.”

“I will not tell it in Confession,” said Denis, “and if I find out that you did, I’ll kill you. I mean it.”

And he did, at the time. It upset him so much that he got almost no pleasure from the apples, but he and Cummins still continued to be friends and to share the parcels of food that Cummins got. These were a complete mystery to Denis. None of the other fellows he knew got a parcel oftener than once a month, and Denis himself hardly got one a year. Of course, Cummins’s parents kept a little shop, so that it wouldn’t be so much trouble to them, making up a parcel, and anyway they would get the things at cost price, but even allowing for all this, it was still remarkable. If they cared all that much for Cummins, why didn’t they keep him at home? It wasn’t even as if he had another brother or sister. Himself, for instance, a wild kid who was always quarrelling with his sister and whose mother was so often away from home, he could see why he had to be sent away, but what had Cummins done to deserve it? There was a mystery here, and Denis was determined to investigate it when he got home.

He had his first opportunity at the end of term when Cummins’s father and mother came for him in a car and brought Denis back as well. Old Cummins was a small man with glasses and a little greying moustache, and his wife was a roly-poly of a woman with a great flow of talk. Denis noticed the way Cummins’s father would wait for minutes on end to ask a question of his own. Cummins’s manner to them was affectionate enough. He seemed to have no self-consciousness, and would turn round with one leg on the front seat to hold his mother’s hand while he answered her questions about the priests.

A week later Martha and Denis went up to the Cummins’s for tea. Mr. Cummins was behind the counter of the shop with his hat on his head, and he called his wife from the foot of the stairs. She brought them upstairs in her excitable, chattering way to a big front room over the street. Denis and Cummins went out to the back garden with a pistol that Cummins had got at Christmas. It was a wonderful air-pistol that Denis knew must have cost pounds. All Cummins’s things were like that. He had also been given a piano accordion. Denis did not envy him the accordion, but he did passionately want the pistol.

“Lend it to us, anyway, for the holidays,” he begged.

“But, sure, when I want to practice with it myself!” Cummins protested in that babyish way of his.

“What do you want to practice with it for?” asked Denis. “When you’re a priest, you won’t be able to shoot.”

“How do you know?” asked Cummins.

“Because priests aren’t let shoot anybody,” said Denis.

“I’ll tell you what I’ll do with you,” Cummins said in his usual cheese-paring way. “I’ll keep it on week-days and you can have it on Saturday and Sunday.”

Denis didn’t want it for Saturday and Sunday; he wanted it for keeps; and it struck him as very queer in a sissy like Cummins, being so attached to a gun that he’d be scared to use.

Mrs. Cummins and the three children had tea in the front room. Then Cummins and Martha played the piano while Mrs. Cummins talked to Denis about school.

“Wisha, Denis,” she said, “isn’t it wonderful for ye to be going to a beautiful school like that?”

Denis thought she was joking and began to smile.

“And the grounds so lovely and the house so lovely inside. Don’t you love the stained-glass window in the hall?”

Denis had never particularly noticed the stained glass, but he vaguely remembered it as she spoke, and agreed.

“Ah, sure, ’tis lovely, with the chapel there, to go to whenever you like. And Francis says ye have the grandest films.”

“Oh, yes,” said Denis, thinking he would prefer threepence-worth at the local cinema any day of the week.

“And ’tis so nice having priests for teachers in place of the rough coarse country fellows you have around here. Oh, Denis, I’m crazy about Father Murphy. Do you know, I’m sure that man is a saint.”

“He’s very holy,” said Denis, wondering whether Mrs. Cummins would think Murphy such a saint if she saw him with a cane in his hand and his face the colour of blood, hissing and snarling as he chased some fellow round the classroom, flogging him on the bare legs.

“Oh, to be sure, he is,” Mrs. Cummins rattled on. “And ’tisn’t that at all, Denis boy, but the nice, gentlemanly friends you can make there instead of the savages there are in this town. Look, ’tisn’t wishing to me to have Francis out of my sight with those brutes around the streets.”

That finished Denis. A fellow would be a long time in Dunmore before he met savages like the two Corbetts from Cork or Barrett from Clare. But he saw that the woman was in earnest. When he returned home, he told his mother everything about their visit, and her amusement convinced him of what he had already suspected—that Mrs. Cummins didn’t know any better. She and her husband, small shopkeepers who were accustomed only to a little house in a terrace, nearly died with the grandeur when they saw the grounds and the lake and the tennis courts, just like the gentlemen’s residences they had seen before that only from the roadway. Of course, they thought it was Heaven. And it explained the mystery about Francis, because, in place of wanting to get rid of him as his mother had to get rid of Denis, they were probably breaking their hearts at having to part with him at all, and doing it only because they felt they were giving him all the advantages that had been denied to themselves. Despite his mother’s mockery, Denis felt rather sorry for them, being taken in like that by appearances.

At the same time it left unexplained something about Francis himself. Denis knew that if he was an only child with a mother and father like that, he would not allow them to remain in ignorance for long. He would soon get away from the filthy dormitory and the brutal society. At first he thought that Francis probably thought it a fine place, too, and, in a frenzy of altruism, decided that it was his duty to talk to Mrs. Cummins and tell her the whole truth about it, but then he realized that Francis could not possibly have been taken in in the same way as his parents. He was a weakling and a prig, but he had a sort of country cuteness which enabled him to see through fellows. No, Francis was probably putting up with it because he felt it was his duty, or for the sake of his vocation, because he thought that life was like that, a vale of tears, and whenever he was homesick, or when fellows jeered at him, he probably went to the chapel and offered it up. It seemed very queer to Denis because when he was homesick or mad he waited till lights were out and then started to bawl in complete silence for fear his neighbours would hear.

He made a point of impressing on his mother the lavishness of the Cumminses, and told her all about the accordion and the pistol and the weekly parcels with a vague hope of creating larger standards of generosity in her, but she only said that Irish shopkeepers were rotten with money and didn’t know how to spend it, and that if only Denis’s father would give her what she was entitled to he might go to the best college in Ireland, where he would meet only the children of professional people.

All the same, when he went back to school there was a change. A parcel arrived for him, and when he opened it there were all the things he had mentioned to her. For a while he felt a little ashamed. It was probably true that his father did not give her all the money she needed, and that she could only send him parcels by stinting herself; but still it was a relief to be able to show off in front of the others whose parents were less generous.

That evening he ran into Cummins, who smiled at him in his pudding-faced way.

“Do you want anything, Denis?” he asked. “I have a parcel if you do.”

“I have a parcel of my own today,” Denis said cockily. “Would you like peaches? I have peaches.”

“Don’t be eating it all now,” Cummins said with a comic wail. “You won’t have anything left tomorrow if you do.”

“Ah, what difference does it make?” said Denis with a shrug, and with reckless abandonment he rewarded his friends and conciliated his foes with the contents of his parcel. Next evening he was almost as bad as ever.

“Jay, Denis,’ Cummins said with amused resignation, “you’re a blooming fright. I told you what was going to happen. How are you going to live when you grow up if you can never keep anything?”

“Ah, boy,” Denis said, in his embarrassment doing the big shot, “you wait till I am grown up, and you’ll see.”

“I know what I’ll see, all right,’ Cummins said, shaking his head sadly. “Better men than you went to the wall. ’Tis the habits we learn at this age that decide what we’re going to be later on. And, anyway, how are you going to get a job? Sure, you won’t learn anything. If you’d even learn the piano I could teach you.”

Cummins was a born preacher, and Denis saw that there was something in what he said, but no amount of preaching could change him. That was the sort he was—come day, go day, God send Sunday—and, anyway, it didn’t really make much difference, because Cummins with his thrifty habits usually had enough to keep Denis going till the next parcel came.

Then, about a month later as Denis was opening his weekly parcel under the eyes of his gang, Anthony Harty stood by, gaping with the rest. Harty was a mean, miserable creature from Clare who never got anything, and was consumed with jealousy of everyone who did.

“How well you didn’t get any parcels last year, and now you’re getting them all the time, Halligan?” he said suspiciously.

“That’s only because my mother didn’t know about the grub in this place,” Denis declared confidently.

“A wonder she wouldn’t address them herself, so,” sneered Harty.

“What do you mean, Harty?” Denis asked, going up to him with his fists clenched. “Are you looking for a puck in the gob?”

“I’m only saying that’s not the writing on your letters,” replied Harty, pointing at the label.

“And why should it be?” shouted Denis. “I suppose it could be the shopkeeper’s.”

“That looks to me like the same writing as on Cummins’s parcels,” said Harty.

“And what’s wrong with that?” Denis asked, feeling a pang of terror. “I suppose she could order them there, couldn’t she?”

“I’m not saying she couldn’t,” said Harty in his sulky, sneering tone. “I’m only telling you what I think.”

Denis could not believe it, but at the same time he could get no further pleasure from the parcel. He put it back in his locker and went out by himself and skulked away among the trees. It was a dull misty February day. He took out his wallet in which there were a picture of his mother and Martha and two letters he had received from his mother. He read the letters through, but there was no reference to any parcel that she was sending. He still could not believe but that there was some simple explanation, and that she had intended the parcels as a surprise, but the very thought of the alternative made his heart turn over. It was something he could talk to nobody about, and after lights out he twisted and turned madly, groaning at the violence of his own restlessness, and the more he turned, the clearer he saw that the parcels had come from the Cumminses and not from his mother.

He had never before felt so humiliated. Though he had not realized it, he had been buoyed up less by the parcels than by the thought that his mother cared so much for him; he had been filled with a new love of her, and now all the love was turning back on him and he realized that he hated her. But he hated the Cumminses worse. He saw that he had pitied and patronized Francis Cummins because he was weak and priggish and because his parents were only poor ignorant country shopkeepers who did not know a good school from a bad one, while they all the time had been pitying him because he had no one to care for him as the Cumminses cared for Francis. He could clearly imagine the three Cumminses discussing him, his mother, and his father, exactly as his mother and he had discussed them. The only difference was that, how ever ignorant they might be, they had been right. It was he and not Francis who deserved pity.

“What ails you, Halligan?” the chap in the next bed asked—the beds were ranked so close together that one couldn’t even sob in peace.

“Nothing ails me,” Denis said between his teeth.

Next day he bundled up what remained of the parcel and took it to Cummins’s dormitory. He had intended just to leave it and walk out, but Cummins was there himself, sitting on his bed with a book, and Denis had to say something.

“That’s yours, Cummins,” he said. “And if you ever do a thing like that again, I’ll kill you.”

“What did I do, Denis?” Cummins wailed, getting up from his bed.

“You got your mother to send me that parcel.”

“I didn’t. She did it herself.”

“But you told her to. Who asked you to interfere in my business, you dirty spy?”

“I’m not a spy,’ Cummins said, growing agitated. “You needed it and I didn’t—what harm is there in that?”

“There is harm. Pretending my mother isn’t as good as yours—a dirty old shopkeeper.”

“I wasn’t, Denis,” Cummins said excitedly. “Honest, I wasn’t. I never said a word against your mother.”

“What did he do to you, Halligan?” one of the fellows asked, affecting to take Cummins’s part.

“He got his people to send me parcels, as if I couldn’t get them myself if I wanted them,” Denis shouted, losing control of himself. “I don’t want his old parcels.”

“Well, that’s nothing to cry about.”

“Who’s crying?” shouted Denis. “I’m not crying. I’ll fight him and you and the best man in the dormitory.”

He waited a moment for someone to take up his challenge, but they only looked at him curiously, and he rushed out because he knew that, in spite of himself, he was crying. He went straight to the lavatory and had his cry out there on the seat. It was the only place they had to cry, the only one where there was some sort of privacy. He cried because he had thought that he was keeping his secret so well, and that no one but himself knew how little toughness and insubordination there was in him till Cummins had come and pried it out.

After that he could never be friendly with Cummins again. It wasn’t, as Cummins thought, that he bore a grudge. It was merely that for him it would have been like living naked.


Jimmy Garvin lived with his mother in a little house in what we called the Square, though there wasn’t much of a square about it. He was roughly my own age, but he behaved as if he were five years older. He was a real mother’s darling, with pale hair and eyes, a round, soft, innocent face that seemed to become rounder and softer and more innocent from the time he began to wear spectacles, and one of those astonishingly clear complexions that keep their owners looking years younger than their real age. He talked slowly and carefully in a precise, old-fashioned way and hardly mixed at all with the other kids.

His mother was a pretty, excitable woman, with fair hair like Jimmy’s, a long, thin face, and a great flow of nervous chatter. She had been separated for years from her husband, who was supposed to be in England somewhere. She had been a waitress in a club on the South Mall, and he was reputed to be of a rather better class, as class is understood in Cork, which is none too well. His family made her a small allowance, but it was not enough to support herself and Jimmy, and she eked it out with housework. It was characteristic of our poverty-stricken locality that the little allowance made her an object of great envy and that people did not like her and called her “Lady Garvin.”

Each afternoon after school you would see Jimmy making for one of the fashionable districts where his mother worked, raising his cap and greeting any woman he knew in his polite old-fashioned way. His mother brought him into the kitchen and gave him whatever had been left over from lunch, and he read there till it was time for them to go home. He was no trouble; all he ever needed to make him happy was a book—any book—from the shelves or the lumber room, and he read with his head resting on his hands, which formed a screen between him and the domestic world.

“Mum,” he would say, beaming, “this book is about a very interesting play they have every year in a place called Oberammergau. Oberammergau is in Germany. In Germany the language they speak is German. Don’t you think I should learn German?”

“Should you, Jimmy?” she would ask tenderly. “Don’t you think you’re learning enough as it is?”

“But if we go to Germany,” he would exclaim with his triumphant smile, “one of us has to know German. If we don’t know how to ask our way to the right platform, how will we know we’re on the right train? Perhaps they’ll take us to Russia.”

“Oh, dear,” she would say, “that would be dreadful.”

At the same time she was, of course, terribly proud of him, particularly if the maid was there to hear him. For as Jimmy told the story, his mother was always the heroine and he Prince Charming. In a year or two he would begin to earn a lot of money, and then they would have a big house on the river, exactly like the one they were in, with a maid to wait on them who would be paid more than any maid in the neighbourhood, and they would spend their holidays in France and Italy. If his mother was friendly with the maid she was working with, he even offered the position to her. There was nothing like having the whole thing arranged.

This was how he liked to pass the time while his mother worked, reading, or—if she had the house to herself—wandering gravely from room to room and imagining himself already the owner, looking at himself in the dressing-table mirrors as he poured bay rum on his hair and brushed it with the silver brushes, and speaking to himself in a lingo he took to be German, touching the keys of the piano lightly, or watching from the tall windows as people hurried by along the river bank in the rainy dusk. Late in the evening his mother and he would go home together, holding hands, while he still chattered on in his grave, ancient, innocent way, the way of a child on whom Life has already laid too heavy a burden.

But as time went on things grew easier. The monks saw that Jimmy was out on his own as a student. Finally, Mrs. Garvin gave up the housework and took in boarders. She rented a big house on the road near the tram-stop and accepted only lodgers of the best class. There at last Jimmy could have a piano of his own, though the instrument he did take up was the violin.


By the time he was ready for the University he had developed into a tall, gangling, good-looking boy, though his years of study had left their mark on him. He had a pleasant tenor voice and sang in one of the city choirs. He had got the highest mark in Ireland in the Intermediate exams, and his picture had appeared in the Examiner, with his right arm resting on a pedestal and his left hand supporting it to keep it from shaking.

And this, of course, was where the trouble really began, for his father’s family saw the picture and read the story and realized that they—poor innocent, good-natured, country folk—were being done out of something by the city slickers. The Garvins were a family you couldn’t do out of much, and they coveted their share of Jimmy’s glory, all the more because they saw that he had got it all from the Garvins, who had always been intellectual—witness Great Uncle Harvey, who had been the greatest scholar in the town of Macroom, consulted even by the parish priest. Some sort of reconciliation was necessary; Mrs. Garvin’s allowance was increased, and she was almost silly with happiness since it seemed so much like a foretaste of all the things Jimmy had promised to do for her.

At the same time she feared the Garvins, a feeling with which Jimmy could not sympathize because he had no fear whatever of his father’s family. He was mildly curious, that was all. To him they were just another audience for whom he could perform on the violin or to whom he could explain the facts of the international situation. At her request he called on his Aunt Mary, who lived in a new red-brick house a stone’s throw from the College. Aunt Mary had been involved in a peculiar marriage with a middle-aged engineer, who had left her some money but no children. She was a shrewd, coaxing old West Cork woman with a face that must once have been good-looking. No sooner did she realize that Jimmy was presentable as well as “smart” than she saw that it was the will of God that she should annex him. She was the family genealogist, and while she fed him excellently on tea, homemade scones, and cake, she filled in for him in a modest and deprecating way the family background he had missed.

It never occurred to her that this might come as an anticlimax to Jimmy. He listened to her with a vacant smile, and even made fun of Great Uncle Harvey to her face, a thing no one had ever presumed to do before, and when he left her she sat, looking out the window after his tall, swinging figure, and wondered if it was really worth her while to pay the call she had promised.

Mrs. Garvin had even worse misgivings.

“I don’t want that woman in the house, Jimmy,” she said, clasping her hands feverishly. “She’s the one I really blame for the trouble with your father.”

“Well, she’s hardly going to make trouble between you and me,” said Jimmy, who had privately decided that his aunt was a fool.

“That’s all you know,” his mother said bitterly.

In this she was right, but even she did not realize the full extent of the trouble Aunt Mary was preparing for them when she called. From Jimmy’s point of view there was nothing wrong. Aunt Mary cluck-clucked with astonishment when he played the violin for her, when he sang, and when he really explained what was happening in Europe.

“Oh, Jimmy,” she said, “I’d love your father to hear you sing. You have his voice. I can hear him in you.”

“Oh, no, I don’t think so, Mrs. Healy,” his mother said hastily. “Jimmy has far too much to do.”

“Ah, I was only thinking of a week or ten days,” Aunt Mary said. “’Twould be a change for him.”

“I think he’s much too young to travel alone,” Mrs. Garvin said, quivering. “In a year or two, perhaps.”

“Oh, really, Mum!” exclaimed Jimmy, cast down from the heights of abstract discussion. “I think I’m able to travel alone by now.”

Aunt Mary had engaged his interest, and well she knew it. He had always been curious in a human way about the father he did not remember, and, being a born learner, was even more curious about England, a country he was always reading about and hearing of, but had never seen. He had more than his share of boyish vanity, and he knew that English contacts would assure him prestige among his fellow-students.

For twelve months, off and on, he argued with his mother about it, but each time it alarmed her again. When she finally did consent, it was only because she felt that it might be unfair to deprive him of a chance of widening his knowledge of the world.

So, at least, she said. But whatever she might say, and for all her fears, she was flattered, and with every bit of feminine vanity in her she desired the opportunity of showing off to her husband and his family the child they had abandoned and whom she had made into a paragon.


Jimmy’s first sight of his father in Paddington Station came as a considerable shock to him. Somehow, whenever he had imagined his father it had been as a heavy man with a big red face and a grey moustache, slow-spoken and portentous; but the man who met him in a bowler hat and a pale grey tie was tall and stringy with a neat dark moustache and an irritable, worried air. His speech was pleasant and well-bred; his manner was unaffected without being demonstrative; and he had a sense of quiet fun that put Jimmy at his ease. But he didn’t like to see such a distinguished-looking man carrying his cheap suitcase for him.

“Do let me carry that!” he said anxiously.

“Oh, that’s all right, son,” his father said lightly. “By the way,” he added smoothly, “you’ll find I talk an awful lot, but you don’t have to pay any attention. If you talk, too, we’ll get on fine. That’s a hell of a heavy bag. We’d better get a taxi.”

It was another surprise to Jimmy when, instead of taking him to some boarding house in the suburbs, his father took him on an electric train to a station twenty-odd miles from London. To Jimmy it seemed that this must be the heart of the country, but the big houses and the tall red buses he saw did not seem countrified. There was a car waiting outside the station, and his father drove him over high hilly country full of woods and streams down into a little red-brick market town, with a market house on stilts in the middle of the street, and up the hills again. To Jimmy it was all new and exciting, and he kept looking out and asking intelligent questions to which he rarely got satisfactory answers.

“Oh, this damn country!” his father said testily. “You have to drive five miles out of your way to avoid a hole in the road that’s preserved because Alfred the Great fell into it. For God’s sake, look at this for a main road!”

While Jimmy was still wondering how you would preserve a hole in the road, they reached a village on top of the hills, a long, low street open on to a wide common, with a school, a church, a row of low cottages, and a public house with a brightly painted inn-sign and with green chairs and tables ranged in front of it. They stopped a little up the road outside a cottage with high pilastered chimneys and diamond-paned windows, and a row of tall elms behind.

“You’d want to mind your head in this damn hole,” his father said as he pushed in the door. “It may have been all right for Queen Elizabeth, but it’s not all right for me.”

Jimmy found himself in a combination living- and dining-room with a huge stone fireplace and low oak beams. A door on the right led into a modern kitchen, and another at the end of the room seemed to lead on to a stairway of sorts. A woman and a little girl of four or five came slowly through this door, the woman lowering her head.

“This is Martha, Jim,” his father tossed off lightly as he kissed her. “Any time you want her, just let me know. She’s on the youthful side for me. Gussie, you old humbug,” he added to the little girl, “this is your big brother. If you’re nice to him he might give you five bob.”

Jimmy was stunned, and his face showed it. This was something he had never anticipated and did not know how to deal with. He was too innocent to know even if it was right or wrong. Of course, things might be different in England. But, whatever he believed, his behaviour had been conditioned by years of deference, and he smiled shyly and shook hands with Martha, a heavy, good-looking woman, who smiled back without warmth. As for Gussie, she stood in a corner with her legs splayed and a finger in her mouth.

“Sherry for you, son,” his father called from the farther room. “I have to take this damn whiskey for my health.”

“Before you take it, I’d better show you your room,” said Martha, picking up his case. “You’ll need to mind your head.”

“Oh, please, Martha!” he said anxiously, but she preceded him with the bag, through the farther room where his father was measuring whiskey in a glass against the light and up a staircase similar to that in the dining-room. In spite of the warning, Jimmy bumped his head badly, and looked in good-humoured disgust at the low doorway. The stairs opened on to an attic room with high beams, a floor that sloped under the grey rug as though the house were on the point of collapse, and a low window that overlooked the garden, the roadway, and the common beyond, a cold blue green compared with the golden green of home. Beyond the common was a row of distant hills.

When he went downstairs again they all sat in the big room under his, and he took the sherry his father offered him. He was too shy to say he didn’t drink. It was a nice room, not too heavily furnished, with its diamond-paned windows looking on to the gardens at the front and back, and with a small piano. This gave Jimmy the opening he needed. It seemed that Martha played the piano. In spite of their common interest, he found her very disconcerting. She was polite, and her accent was pleasant, but there seemed to him to be no warmth in her. He had trained himself to present a good impression without wasting time; he knew that he was polite, that he was intelligent, and that he had a fine voice; and it was a new experience for him to find his friendliness coming back to him like a voice in an empty house. It made him raise his voice and enlarge his gestures until he felt that he was even creating a disturbance. His father seemed to enjoy his loud-voiced caricature of Aunt Mary extolling the scholarship of Great Uncle Harvey, a character who struck Jimmy as being pure farce, but a moment later, having passed from amusement to indignation, he was irritably denouncing Great Uncle Harvey as the biggest bloody old humbug that had ever come out of Macroom. He was a man who seemed to move easily from mood to mood, and Jimmy, whose own moods were static and monumental, found himself laughing outright at the sheer unexpectedness of his remarks.

After supper, when Martha had gone to put Gussie to bed, his father stood with his hands behind his back before the big stone fireplace (which, according to him, had already asphyxiated three historical personages and would soon do for him). He was developing a stomach and a double chin, and Jimmy noticed a fundamental restlessness about him, as when he failed to find some letter he was searching for and called petulantly for Martha. She came in with an expressionless air, found the letter, and went out again. He was a man of many enthusiasms. At one moment he was emotional about Cork and its fine schools, so different from English ones, where children never learned anything but insolence, but a few minutes later, almost without a change of tone, he seemed to be advising Jimmy to get out as quick as he could before the damn place smothered him. When Jimmy, accustomed to an adoring feminine audience, gave him the benefit of his views on the Irish educational system, its merits and drawbacks, he sat with crossed legs, looking away and smiling as though to himself while he twirled the glass in his long sensitive fingers. He was something of a puzzle to Jimmy.

“I suppose you must think me a bit of a blackguard,” he said gruffly, rising again to give the fire a kick. “The truth is, I hadn’t the faintest idea what was happening you. Your mother wouldn’t write—not that I’m criticizing

her, mind you, We didn’t get on, and she deserves every credit for you, whatever your aunt or anyone else may say. I’d be proud of her if she was my mother.”

“So I am,” said Jimmy beaming with a smile.

“All I mean is that she put herself to a lot of unnecessary trouble, not letting me help you. I can easily see you through college if that’s what you want.”

“Thanks,” Jimmy replied with the same air of triumph. “But I think I can manage pretty well on scholarships.”

“All the better. Anyway, you can have the money. It’s an investment. It always pays to have one member of the family with brains: you never know when you’ll need them. I’m doing fairly well,” he added complacently. “Not that you can be sure of anything. Half the people in a place like this are getting by on credit.”

It was all very strange to Jimmy. He bumped his head again going up to bed, and chuckled to himself. From far away he heard the whistle of a train, probably going north on its way up the valley towards Ireland, and for a long time he lay in bed, his hands joined on his stomach, wondering what it all meant and what he should do about it. It became plainer when he contemplated it like this. He would just ask his father as man to man whether or not he and Martha were married, and if the answer was unsatisfactory, he would pack his bag and go, money or no money. No doubt his father would make a scene, and it would all be very unpleasant, but later on he would realize that Jimmy was right. Jimmy would explain this to him, and make it clear that anything he did was done as much in his father’s interests as his own; that nothing was to be gained by defying the laws of morality and the church. Jimmy knew he had this power of dominating people; he had seen old women’s eyes filled with tears when he had sung “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen,” and, though he rejoiced in the feeling of confidence it gave him, he took care never to abuse it, never to try and convince unless he was first convinced himself. He fell asleep in a haze of self-righteousness.

Next morning, after his father had driven him to Mass in the gymnasium of the local club, it did not seem quite so easy. His father seemed a more formidable character than any he had yet met. But Jimmy had resolution and obstinacy. He summed it all up and asked in a casual sort of way: “Was it there you were married?”

His father’s face grew stern, but he answered urbanely enough.

“No. Why?”

“Nothing,” Jimmy said weakly. “I just wondered.”

“Whether a marriage in a gymnasium would be binding? I was wondering the same thing myself.”

And, as he got into the car, Jimmy realized that this was as far as ever he would get with his big scene. Whatever the reason was, he was overawed by his father. He put it down partly to the difference in age, and partly to the inflexibility of his own reactions. His father’s moods moved too fast for him; beside him he felt like a knight in heavy armour trying to chase a fleet-footed mountainy man. He resolved to wait for a more suitable opportunity. They drove on, and his father stopped the car near the top of the hill, where there was a view of the valley up which the railway passed. Grey trees squiggled across it in elaborate patterns, all grey church towers and red-tiled roofs showed between them in the sunlight that overflowed into it from heavy grey-and-white clouds.

“Lovely, isn’t it?” his father said quietly.

Then he smiled, and suddenly his face became extraordinarily young and innocent, There was a sort of sweetness in it that for a moment took Jimmy’s breath away.

“You see, son,” he said, “When I was sixteen my father should have taken me aside and told me something about women. But he was a shy man, and my mother wouldn’t have liked it, so, you see, I’m in a bit of a mess. I’d have done the same for you, but I never got the chance, and I dare say when you’re a bit older you’ll find yourself in a thundering big mess, too. I wouldn’t worry too much about it if I were you. Time enough for that when it happens.”

Then he drove on to the pub, apparently under the impression that he had now explained everything. It struck Jimmy that perhaps he would never reach the point of asking his father for an explanation.

His father had changed again and become swaggering and insolent. He made Jimmy play a game of darts with him, flirted with the woman of the house, and made cutting remarks to her husband about the local cricket team which her husband seemed to enjoy. Jimmy had the impression that for some reason they all liked his father.

“Silly bloody game, anyway,” he added with a snort. “More like a serial story than a game. Give me a good rousing game of hurling where somebody’s head gets split.”

“God, this is a beautiful country,” he muttered to Jimmy, standing at the door with one hand in his trousers pocket, the other holding his pint, while he smiled across the sunlit common, and again his face had the strange sweetness that Jimmy had noticed on it before. “You’d be a long time at home before you could go into a country pub on Sunday and meet a crowd like this.”

There was a sort of consistency about his father’s inconsistencies that reminded Jimmy of the sky with its pennants of blue and cascades of silver, but he found he did not like him any the less for these. He did not feel quite so comfortable on the train back to Ireland, wondering what he should tell his mother, feeling that he should tell her nothing, and knowing at the same time that this was something he was almost incapable of doing.

Naturally, he told her everything in the first half-hour, and, when she grew disgusted and bitter, felt he had betrayed a confidence.

“What did I say about your aunt?” she exclaimed. “All the time she was pressing you to go there, she knew what it was like.”

“I’m not so sure that she did know,” Jimmy said doubtfully. “I don’t think Father tells her much.”

“Oh, Jimmy, you’re too innocent to know what liars and cheats they all are, all the Garvins.”

“I didn’t think there was much of the cheat about Father,” Jimmy protested. “He was honest enough about it with me.”

“He was brazen about it,” his mother said contemptuously. “Like all liars. ’Tisn’t alike.”

“I’m not sure that he was brazen,” Jimmy protested weakly, trying in vain to assert himself again in his old authoritative way. “It’s just that he’s not a good liar. And, besides,” he added knowingly, folding his hands on his lap and looking at her owlishly over his spectacles, “we don’t know the sort of temptations people have in a place like England.”

“Temptations aren’t confined to England,” she said with a flash of temper.

By this time she was regretting bitterly her own folly in allowing him to visit his father. She resented, too, his father’s having brought him to a public house, even though Jimmy explained that he had only drunk cider, and that public houses there were different. But her full bitterness about this was reserved till later, when Jimmy started going to public houses on his own. He now had a small allowance from his father, and proceeded to indulge his mother and himself. He had made friends with a group that centred on the College: a couple of instructors, some teachers, some Civil Servants—the usual run of small-town intellectuals. Up to now, Jimmy had been a young fellow with no particular friends, partly because he had had no time for them, partly because, like most kids who have no time for friends, he was scared of them when they made advances to him.

It was about this time, too, that he acknowledged my existence, and the pair of us went for occasional walks together. I admired him almost extravagantly. Whatever he did, from the way he chose his ties to the way he greeted a woman on the road or the way he climbed a fence, was done with an air, while I stumbled over all of them. It was the same with ideas; by the time I had picked myself up after making a point, Jimmy would be crossing the next obstacle, looking back at me and laughing triumphantly. He had a disciplined personality and a trained mind, and, though he was sometimes impressed by my odd bits of knowledge, he was puzzled by my casual, impractical interests and desultory reading. He was a good teacher, so he lent me some elementary books and then started to take me through them step by step, but without much effect. I had not even the groundwork of knowledge, while he was a natural examination-passer with a power of concentration that I lacked completely.

At the same time I was put off by his other friends. They argued as people do who spend too much of their time in public houses—for effect. They were witty and clever and said wounding things. In spite of my shortcomings, I had a sort of snobbery all my own. I felt they were failures, and I had the feeling that Jimmy only liked them for that very reason. His great weakness was showing off. I sat with them one evening, watching Jimmy lower his beer and listening to him defend orthodoxy against a couple of the others who favoured various forms of agnosticism. He argued well enough in the stubborn manner of a first-year philosophy student. Then he sang for us, a little too well for the occasion. I did not like it, the picture of the fellow I had known as a slim-faced, spectacled school-boy, laying down the law and singing in a pub. He was idling, he was drinking—though not anything like as much as his mother believed—and he had even picked up a girl, a school-teacher called Anne Reidy with whom he went to Crosshaven on week-ends. In fact, for the first time in his life Jimmy was enjoying himself, and, like all those who have not enjoyed themselves in childhood, he was enjoying himself rather too much.

At first his mother was bewildered; then she became censorious and bitter. Naturally she blamed his father for it all. She even told Jimmy that his father had deliberately set out to corrupt him just to destroy whatever she had been able to do for him, which wasn’t exactly tactful as Jimmy felt most of the credit was due to himself. And then she, who for all those years had managed to keep her mind to herself, started to complain to Jimmy about her marriage, and the drinking, cheating, and general light-mindedness of his father, exactly as though it had all just newly happened. Jimmy listened politely but with a wooden face, which would have revealed to anyone but her that he thought she was obsessed by the subject.

She was a pathetic figure because, though she was proud and sensitive beyond any woman I knew—the sort who would not call at all unless she brought some little gift, and who took flight if you put on the kettle or looked at the clock—she haunted our house. She was, I think, secretly convinced that I had influence over Jimmy. It made me uncomfortable because not only did I realize how much it cost her to plead for her paragon with a nonentity like myself, but I knew I had no influence over him. He was far too clever to be influenced by anyone like me. He was also, though I do not mean it in a derogatory way, too conceited. Once when I did try in a clumsy way to advise him, he laughed uproariously.

“Listen to him!” he said. “Listen to the steady man! Why, you slug, you never in your whole life put in one week’s connected work at anything.”

“That may be true enough, Jimmy,” I said without rancour, “but all the same you should watch out. You could lose that scholarship.”

“Oh, I don’t think so,” he said with a smile which expressed his enormous self-confidence. “But at any rate, even if I did, the old man has plenty.”

But, though his mother continued to appeal to me silently, in conversation she developed a sort of facile pessimism that I found harder to understand. It was a kind of cynicism which failed to come off.

“Oh, I know what will happen,” she said with a shrug. “I’ve seen it happen before. His father will get tired of him as he gets tired of everybody, and then he’ll find himself with nothing.”


That was not quite how it happened. One month Jimmy’s allowance failed to arrive, and when he wrote his father a bantering letter, threatening to refer the matter to his lawyers, it was Martha who replied. There was no banter about her. His father had been arrested for embezzlement, and house, furniture, and business had all been swallowed up. Martha wrote as though she blamed his father for everything.

“I suppose God’s vengeance catches up on them all sooner or later,” Mrs. Garvin said bitterly.

“Something caught up on him,” Jimmy said with a stunned air. “The poor devil must have been half out of his mind for years.”

“And now it’s the turn of the widows and orphans he robbed,” said his mother.

“Oh, he didn’t rob anybody,” Jimmy said.

“You should tell the police that.”

“I’m sure the police know it already,” said Jimmy. “People like Father don’t steal. They find themselves saddled with an expensive wife or family, and they borrow, intending to put it back. Everybody does it one way or another, but some people don’t know where to stop. Then they get caught up in their own mistakes. I wish to God I’d known when I was there. I might have been able to help him.”

“You’ll have enough to do to help yourself,” she said sharply.

“Oh, I’ll manage somehow,” he said doubtfully. “I dare say I can get a job.”

“As a labourer?” she asked mockingly.

“Not necessarily,” he said steadily, looking at her with some surprise. “I can probably get an office job.”

“Yes,” she said bitterly, “as a clerk. And all your years of study to go for nothing.”

That was something she scarcely needed to remind him of, though when he tried to get help he was reminded even more forcefully of the fact which most paragons learn sooner or later: that a cracked paragon is harder to dispose of than plain delft. He had made too much of a fool of himself. The County Council scholarship would not be renewed, and the College would promise nothing.

Even his mother had lost confidence in him, and as time went on his relations with her became more strained. She could not resist throwing the blame for everything on his father, and here she found herself up against a wall of obstinacy in him. He had already silently separated himself from his Aunt Mary, who had thrown herself on him in tears and told him his father had dragged the good name of the Garvins in the gutter. Jimmy didn’t know about the good name of the Garvins, but somewhere in the back of his mind was a picture of his father facing a police officer alone with that weak innocent smile on his face, and whenever he thought of it a cloud came over his mind. He even wrote affectionately to his father in prison —something his mother found it hard to forgive. Her taunts had become almost a neurosis because she could not stop them, and when she began, nothing was too extravagant for her. Not only had his father deliberately corrupted Jimmy, but it would almost seem as if he had got himself gaoled with no other object than that of disgracing him.

“Oh, give it a rest, Mum,” Jimmy said, glowering at her from over his book. “I made a bit of a fool of myself, but Father had nothing to do with that.”

“Don’t tell me it wasn’t his fault, Jimmy,” she said cuttingly. “Is it you who never touched drink till you set foot in his house? You who never looked at the side of the road a girl walked at till you stayed with that—filthy thing ?”

“All right, all right,” he said angrily. “Maybe I am a blackguard, but if I am, that’s my fault, not his. He only did what he thought was the best thing for me. Why do you always assume that everybody but yourself is acting with bad motives?”

“That’s what the police seem to think, too,” she said.

Jimmy suddenly lost all control of himself. Like all who have missed the safety-valves of childhood, he had an almost insane temper. He flung his book to a corner of the room and went to the door, white and shaking.

“Damn you!” he said in a low bitter voice, “I think you’re almost glad to see that poor unfortunate. devil ruined.”

It scared her, because for the first time she saw that her son, the boy for whom she had slaved her life away, was no better than a stranger. But it scared Jimmy even more. He had become so accustomed to obedience, gentleness, and industry that he could not even imagine how he had come to speak to his mother in such a tone. He, too, was a stranger to himself, a stranger who seemed to have nothing whatever to do with the Jimmy Garvin who had worked so happily every evening at home, and all he could do was to get away from it all with a couple of cronies and drink and argue till he was himself again.

What neither of them saw was that the real cause of the breach was that his mother wanted him back, wanted him all to herself as in the old days, and to forget that he had ever met or liked his foolish, wayward father, and that this was something he could not forget, even for her.

The situation could not last, of course. One evening he came in, looking distressed and pale.

“Mum,” he said with a guilty air, “I have the offer of a room with a couple of students in Sheares’ Street. I can help them with their work, and Ill have a place to myself to do my own. I think it’s a good idea, don’t you?”

She sat in the dusk, looking into the fire with a strained air, but when she spoke her voice was even enough.

“Oh, is that so, Jimmy?” she said. “I suppose this house isn’t good enough for you any longer?”

“Now, you know it’s not that, Mum,” he replied. “It’s just that I have to work, and I can’t while you and I are sparring. This is only for the time being, and, anyway, I can always spend the week-ends here.”

“Very well, Jimmy,” she said coldly. “If the house is here you’ll be welcome. Now, I’d better go and pack your things.”

By the time he left, he was in tears, but she was like a woman of ice. Afterwards she came to our house and sat over the fire in the kitchen. She tried to speak with calm, but she was shivering all over.

“Wisha, child, what ails you?” Mother asked in alarm.

“Nothing, only Jimmy’s left me,” Mrs. Garvin answered in a thin, piping voice

“Who?” Mother asked in horror, clasping her hands. “Jimmy?”

“Packed and left an hour ago. He’s taken a room with some students in town. ... I suppose it was the best thing. He said he couldn’t stand living in the same house with me.’

“Ah, for goodness sake!” wailed mother.

“That’s what he said, Mrs. Delaney.”

“And who cares what he said?” Mother cried in a blaze of anger. “How can you be bothered with what people say? Half their time they don’t know what they’re saying. Twenty-five years I’m living in the same house as Mick Delaney, and where would I be if I listened to what he says? ... ’Tis for the best, girl,” she added gently, resting her hand on Mrs. Garvin’s knee. “’Tisn’t for want of love that ye were hurting one another. Jimmy is a fine boy, and he’ll be a fine man yet.”

Almost immediately Jimmy got himself a small job in the courthouse with the taxation people. In the evenings he worked, and over the week-ends he came home. There was no trouble about this. He enjoyed his good meals and his soft bed, and in the evenings you could hear him bellowing happily away at the piano. His mother and he were better friends than they had been for a long time, but something seemed to have broken in her. Nothing, I believe, could now have roused her to any fresh effort. At the best of times she would have taken her son’s liberation hard, but now the facile pessimism that had only been a crust over her real feelings seemed to have become part of her. It wasn’t obtrusive or offensive; when we met she still approached me with the same eagerness, but suddenly she would give a bitter little smile and shrug and say: “It’s well to be you, Larry. You still have your dreams.” She seemed to me to spend more of her time in the church.

The rooms in Sheares’ Street were not all they might have been, and Jimmy finally married Anne Reidy, the girl he had been walking out with. Anne had always struck me as a fine, jolly, bouncing girl. They lived in rooms on the Dyke Parade with the gas stove in the hall and the bathroom up the stairs, and even for these small comforts Anne had to hold down a job and dodge an early pregnancy, which, according to her, was “a career in itself.” Jimmy was studying for a degree from London University, and doing the work by post. They were two hot-blooded people and accustomed to comfort, and the rows between them were shattering. Later they reported them in detail to me, almost as though they enjoyed them, which perhaps they did. Sometimes I met them up the tree-shadowed walk late at night, and went back for an hour to drink tea with them. Jimmy was thin, and there was a translucency about his skin that I didn’t like. I guessed they were pretty close to starvation, yet in their queer way they seemed to be enjoying that, too.

By this time Jimmy could have had a permanent job in the County Council—people like him have the knack of making themselves indispensable—but he turned it down, foolishly, I thought. He wanted a degree, though he seemed to me to have no clear notion of what use it was going to be to him when he got it. He talked of Anne and himself getting jobs together in England, but that struck me as no more than old talk. It was only later that I understood it. He wanted a degree because it was the only pattern of achievement he understood, and the only one that could re-establish him in his own esteem. This was where he had failed, and this was where he must succeed. And this was what they were really fighting for, living on scraps, quarrelling like hell, dressing in old clothes, and cracking jokes about their poverty till they had the bailiffs in and Anne’s career of childlessness had broken down with a bang.

Then one night I found them at supper in a little restaurant in a lane off Patrick Street. Jimmy was drunk and excited, and when he saw me he came up to me demonstratively and embraced me.

“Ah, the stout man!” he shouted with his eyes burning. “The steady Delaney! Look at him! Thirty, if he’s a day, and not a letter to his name!”

“He’s celebrating,” Anne said rather unnecessarily, laughing at me with her mouth full. “He’s got his old degree. Isn’t it a blessing? This is our first steak in. six months.”

“And what are you going to do now?” I asked.

“Tomorrow,” said Jimmy, “we’re going on our honeymoon.”

“Baby and all!” Anne said, and exploded in laughter. “Now tell him where!”

“Why wouldn’t I tell him where?” shouted Jimmy. “Why wouldn’t I tell everybody? What’s wrong with going to see the old man in gaol before they let him out? Nobody else did, even that bitch of a woman. Never went to see him and never sent the kid.”

“That’s right,” Anne said almost hysterically. “Now tell him about baby sister Gussie. That’s the bit my mother is dying to hear.”

“You know what your mother can do!” Jimmy said exultantly. “Where’s that waitress?” he called, his long, pale face shining. “Delaney needs drink.”

“Garvin has too much drink,” said Anne. “And I’ll be up all night putting wet cloths on his head. ... You should see him when he’s sick,” she said indignantly. “‘Oh, I’m finished! Oh, I’m going to die!’ That’s what his mother did for him!”

That may have been what his mother had done for him —I didn’t know—but what interested me was what his father had done for him. All that evening, while they chattered and laughed in a sort of frenzy of relief, I was thinking of the troubles that Jimmy’s discovery of his father had brought into his life, but I was thinking, too, of the strength it had given him to handle them. Now whatever he had inherited from his parents he had combined into something that belonged to neither of them, that was his alone, and that would keep him master of his destiny till the day he died.


FRANK O’CONNOR (pseudonym of Michael O’Donovan) was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1903. He says that he had no education worth mentioning and few ambitions except to write. Nevertheless, he is a librarian by profession, something of a student of eighteenth-century music, and a linguist of considerable attainments. He learned to speak Irish at an early age, saturated himself in Gaelic poetry, music, and legend, and began to write. He was preparing a collected edition of his works at the age of twelve. Later, while interned for a period by the Free State Government, he spent his time studying languages. After his release, he met AE, who published poems, stories, and translations by him in the Irish Statesman. His first published book was Guests of the Nation, a volume of short stories. He has published novels, several additional volumes of tales, The Mirror in the Roadway (a study of the modern novel), verse, travel books, and a study of Michael Collins and the Irish Revolution. In recent years he has lived mostly in the United States, and has taught at Harvard and Northwestern universities.The first volume of his collected (and largely rewritten) stories—The Stories of Frank O’Connor—was published in 1952, the second—More Stories by Frank O’Connor—in 1954.


This book was set on the Linotype in Granjon, a type named in compliment to Robert Granjon, but neither a copy of a classic face nor an entirely original creation. George W. Jones based his designs upon the type used by Claude Garamond (1510-61) in his beautiful French books. Granjon more closely resembles Garamond’s own type than do any of the various modern types that bear his name.

Robert Granjon began his career as type-cutter in 1523. The boldest and most original designer of his time, he was one of the first to practise the trade of type-founder apart from that of printer. Between 1557 and 1562 Granjon printed about twenty books in types designed by himself, following, after the fashion of the day, the cursive handwriting of the time. These types, usually known as “caractéres de civilité,” he himself called “lettres francaises,” as especially appropriate to his own country.

Composed, printed, and bound by H. Wolff, New York. Paper manufactured by S. D. Warren Company, Boston.