She sat at the window watching the evening invade the avenue. Her head
was leaned against the window curtains and in her nostrils was the
odour of dusty cretonne. She was tired.
Few people passed. The man out of the last house passed on his way
home; she heard his footsteps clacking along the concrete pavement and
afterwards crunching on the cinder path before the new red houses. One
time there used to be a field there in which they used to play every
evening with other people’s children. Then a man from Belfast bought
the field and built houses in it—not like their little brown houses but
bright brick houses with shining roofs. The children of the avenue used
to play together in that field—the Devines, the Waters, the Dunns,
little Keogh the cripple, she and her brothers and sisters. Ernest,
however, never played: he was too grown up. Her father used often to
hunt them in out of the field with his blackthorn stick; but usually
little Keogh used to keep _nix_ and call out when he saw her father
coming. Still they seemed to have been rather happy then. Her father
was not so bad then; and besides, her mother was alive. That was a long
time ago; she and her brothers and sisters were all grown up; her
mother was dead. Tizzie Dunn was dead, too, and the Waters had gone
back to England. Everything changes. Now she was going to go away like
the others, to leave her home.
Home! She looked round the room, reviewing all its familiar objects
which she had dusted once a week for so many years, wondering where on
earth all the dust came from. Perhaps she would never see again those
familiar objects from which she had never dreamed of being divided. And
yet during all those years she had never found out the name of the
priest whose yellowing photograph hung on the wall above the broken
harmonium beside the coloured print of the promises made to Blessed
Margaret Mary Alacoque. He had been a school friend of her father.
Whenever he showed the photograph to a visitor her father used to pass
it with a casual word:
“He is in Melbourne now.”
She had consented to go away, to leave her home. Was that wise? She
tried to weigh each side of the question. In her home anyway she had
shelter and food; she had those whom she had known all her life about
her. Of course she had to work hard, both in the house and at business.
What would they say of her in the Stores when they found out that she
had run away with a fellow? Say she was a fool, perhaps; and her place
would be filled up by advertisement. Miss Gavan would be glad. She had
always had an edge on her, especially whenever there were people
“Miss Hill, don’t you see these ladies are waiting?”
“Look lively, Miss Hill, please.”
She would not cry many tears at leaving the Stores.
But in her new home, in a distant unknown country, it would not be like
that. Then she would be married—she, Eveline. People would treat her
with respect then. She would not be treated as her mother had been.
Even now, though she was over nineteen, she sometimes felt herself in
danger of her father’s violence. She knew it was that that had given
her the palpitations. When they were growing up he had never gone for
her like he used to go for Harry and Ernest, because she was a girl;
but latterly he had begun to threaten her and say what he would do to
her only for her dead mother’s sake. And now she had nobody to protect
her. Ernest was dead and Harry, who was in the church decorating
business, was nearly always down somewhere in the country. Besides, the
invariable squabble for money on Saturday nights had begun to weary her
unspeakably. She always gave her entire wages—seven shillings—and Harry
always sent up what he could but the trouble was to get any money from
her father. He said she used to squander the money, that she had no
head, that he wasn’t going to give her his hard-earned money to throw
about the streets, and much more, for he was usually fairly bad of a
Saturday night. In the end he would give her the money and ask her had
she any intention of buying Sunday’s dinner. Then she had to rush out
as quickly as she could and do her marketing, holding her black leather
purse tightly in her hand as she elbowed her way through the crowds and
returning home late under her load of provisions. She had hard work to
keep the house together and to see that the two young children who had
been left to her charge went to school regularly and got their meals
regularly. It was hard work—a hard life—but now that she was about to
leave it she did not find it a wholly undesirable life.
She was about to explore another life with Frank. Frank was very kind,
manly, open-hearted. She was to go away with him by the night-boat to
be his wife and to live with him in Buenos Ayres where he had a home
waiting for her. How well she remembered the first time she had seen
him; he was lodging in a house on the main road where she used to
visit. It seemed a few weeks ago. He was standing at the gate, his
peaked cap pushed back on his head and his hair tumbled forward over a
face of bronze. Then they had come to know each other. He used to meet
her outside the Stores every evening and see her home. He took her to
see _The Bohemian Girl_ and she felt elated as she sat in an
unaccustomed part of the theatre with him. He was awfully fond of music
and sang a little. People knew that they were courting and, when he
sang about the lass that loves a sailor, she always felt pleasantly
confused. He used to call her Poppens out of fun. First of all it had
been an excitement for her to have a fellow and then she had begun to
like him. He had tales of distant countries. He had started as a deck
boy at a pound a month on a ship of the Allan Line going out to Canada.
He told her the names of the ships he had been on and the names of the
different services. He had sailed through the Straits of Magellan and
he told her stories of the terrible Patagonians. He had fallen on his
feet in Buenos Ayres, he said, and had come over to the old country
just for a holiday. Of course, her father had found out the affair and
had forbidden her to have anything to say to him.
“I know these sailor chaps,” he said.
One day he had quarrelled with Frank and after that she had to meet her
The evening deepened in the avenue. The white of two letters in her lap
grew indistinct. One was to Harry; the other was to her father. Ernest
had been her favourite but she liked Harry too. Her father was becoming
old lately, she noticed; he would miss her. Sometimes he could be very
nice. Not long before, when she had been laid up for a day, he had read
her out a ghost story and made toast for her at the fire. Another day,
when their mother was alive, they had all gone for a picnic to the Hill
of Howth. She remembered her father putting on her mother’s bonnet to
make the children laugh.
Her time was running out but she continued to sit by the window,
leaning her head against the window curtain, inhaling the odour of
dusty cretonne. Down far in the avenue she could hear a street organ
playing. She knew the air. Strange that it should come that very night
to remind her of the promise to her mother, her promise to keep the
home together as long as she could. She remembered the last night of
her mother’s illness; she was again in the close dark room at the other
side of the hall and outside she heard a melancholy air of Italy. The
organ-player had been ordered to go away and given sixpence. She
remembered her father strutting back into the sickroom saying:
“Damned Italians! coming over here!”
As she mused the pitiful vision of her mother’s life laid its spell on
the very quick of her being—that life of commonplace sacrifices closing
in final craziness. She trembled as she heard again her mother’s voice
saying constantly with foolish insistence:
“Derevaun Seraun! Derevaun Seraun!”
She stood up in a sudden impulse of terror. Escape! She must escape!
Frank would save her. He would give her life, perhaps love, too. But
she wanted to live. Why should she be unhappy? She had a right to
happiness. Frank would take her in his arms, fold her in his arms. He
would save her.
She stood among the swaying crowd in the station at the North Wall. He
held her hand and she knew that he was speaking to her, saying
something about the passage over and over again. The station was full
of soldiers with brown baggages. Through the wide doors of the sheds
she caught a glimpse of the black mass of the boat, lying in beside the
quay wall, with illumined portholes. She answered nothing. She felt her
cheek pale and cold and, out of a maze of distress, she prayed to God
to direct her, to show her what was her duty. The boat blew a long
mournful whistle into the mist. If she went, tomorrow she would be on
the sea with Frank, steaming towards Buenos Ayres. Their passage had
been booked. Could she still draw back after all he had done for her?
Her distress awoke a nausea in her body and she kept moving her lips in
silent fervent prayer.
A bell clanged upon her heart. She felt him seize her hand:
All the seas of the world tumbled about her heart. He was drawing her
into them: he would drown her. She gripped with both hands at the iron
No! No! No! It was impossible. Her hands clutched the iron in frenzy.
Amid the seas she sent a cry of anguish!
He rushed beyond the barrier and called to her to follow. He was
shouted at to go on but he still called to her. She set her white face
to him, passive, like a helpless animal. Her eyes gave him no sign of
love or farewell or recognition.