Lily, the caretaker’s daughter, was literally run off her feet. Hardly
had she brought one gentleman into the little pantry behind the office
on the ground floor and helped him off with his overcoat than the
wheezy hall-door bell clanged again and she had to scamper along the
bare hallway to let in another guest. It was well for her she had not
to attend to the ladies also. But Miss Kate and Miss Julia had thought
of that and had converted the bathroom upstairs into a ladies’
dressing-room. Miss Kate and Miss Julia were there, gossiping and
laughing and fussing, walking after each other to the head of the
stairs, peering down over the banisters and calling down to Lily to ask
her who had come.
It was always a great affair, the Misses Morkan’s annual dance.
Everybody who knew them came to it, members of the family, old friends
of the family, the members of Julia’s choir, any of Kate’s pupils that
were grown up enough, and even some of Mary Jane’s pupils too. Never
once had it fallen flat. For years and years it had gone off in
splendid style as long as anyone could remember; ever since Kate and
Julia, after the death of their brother Pat, had left the house in
Stoney Batter and taken Mary Jane, their only niece, to live with them
in the dark gaunt house on Usher’s Island, the upper part of which they
had rented from Mr Fulham, the corn-factor on the ground floor. That
was a good thirty years ago if it was a day. Mary Jane, who was then a
little girl in short clothes, was now the main prop of the household,
for she had the organ in Haddington Road. She had been through the
Academy and gave a pupils’ concert every year in the upper room of the
Antient Concert Rooms. Many of her pupils belonged to the better-class
families on the Kingstown and Dalkey line. Old as they were, her aunts
also did their share. Julia, though she was quite grey, was still the
leading soprano in Adam and Eve’s, and Kate, being too feeble to go
about much, gave music lessons to beginners on the old square piano in
the back room. Lily, the caretaker’s daughter, did housemaid’s work for
them. Though their life was modest they believed in eating well; the
best of everything: diamond-bone sirloins, three-shilling tea and the
best bottled stout. But Lily seldom made a mistake in the orders so
that she got on well with her three mistresses. They were fussy, that
was all. But the only thing they would not stand was back answers.
Of course they had good reason to be fussy on such a night. And then it
was long after ten o’clock and yet there was no sign of Gabriel and his
wife. Besides they were dreadfully afraid that Freddy Malins might turn
up screwed. They would not wish for worlds that any of Mary Jane’s
pupils should see him under the influence; and when he was like that it
was sometimes very hard to manage him. Freddy Malins always came late
but they wondered what could be keeping Gabriel: and that was what
brought them every two minutes to the banisters to ask Lily had Gabriel
or Freddy come.
“O, Mr Conroy,” said Lily to Gabriel when she opened the door for him,
“Miss Kate and Miss Julia thought you were never coming. Good-night,
“I’ll engage they did,” said Gabriel, “but they forget that my wife
here takes three mortal hours to dress herself.”
He stood on the mat, scraping the snow from his goloshes, while Lily
led his wife to the foot of the stairs and called out:
“Miss Kate, here’s Mrs Conroy.”
Kate and Julia came toddling down the dark stairs at once. Both of them
kissed Gabriel’s wife, said she must be perished alive and asked was
Gabriel with her.
“Here I am as right as the mail, Aunt Kate! Go on up. I’ll follow,”
called out Gabriel from the dark.
He continued scraping his feet vigorously while the three women went
upstairs, laughing, to the ladies’ dressing-room. A light fringe of
snow lay like a cape on the shoulders of his overcoat and like toecaps
on the toes of his goloshes; and, as the buttons of his overcoat
slipped with a squeaking noise through the snow-stiffened frieze, a
cold, fragrant air from out-of-doors escaped from crevices and folds.
“Is it snowing again, Mr Conroy?” asked Lily.
She had preceded him into the pantry to help him off with his overcoat.
Gabriel smiled at the three syllables she had given his surname and
glanced at her. She was a slim, growing girl, pale in complexion and
with hay-coloured hair. The gas in the pantry made her look still
paler. Gabriel had known her when she was a child and used to sit on
the lowest step nursing a rag doll.
“Yes, Lily,” he answered, “and I think we’re in for a night of it.”
He looked up at the pantry ceiling, which was shaking with the stamping
and shuffling of feet on the floor above, listened for a moment to the
piano and then glanced at the girl, who was folding his overcoat
carefully at the end of a shelf.
“Tell me, Lily,” he said in a friendly tone, “do you still go to
“O no, sir,” she answered. “I’m done schooling this year and more.”
“O, then,” said Gabriel gaily, “I suppose we’ll be going to your
wedding one of these fine days with your young man, eh?”
The girl glanced back at him over her shoulder and said with great
“The men that is now is only all palaver and what they can get out of
Gabriel coloured as if he felt he had made a mistake and, without
looking at her, kicked off his goloshes and flicked actively with his
muffler at his patent-leather shoes.
He was a stout tallish young man. The high colour of his cheeks pushed
upwards even to his forehead where it scattered itself in a few
formless patches of pale red; and on his hairless face there
scintillated restlessly the polished lenses and the bright gilt rims of
the glasses which screened his delicate and restless eyes. His glossy
black hair was parted in the middle and brushed in a long curve behind
his ears where it curled slightly beneath the groove left by his hat.
When he had flicked lustre into his shoes he stood up and pulled his
waistcoat down more tightly on his plump body. Then he took a coin
rapidly from his pocket.
“O Lily,” he said, thrusting it into her hands, “it’s Christmas-time,
isn’t it? Just … here’s a little….”
He walked rapidly towards the door.
“O no, sir!” cried the girl, following him. “Really, sir, I wouldn’t
“Christmas-time! Christmas-time!” said Gabriel, almost trotting to the
stairs and waving his hand to her in deprecation.
The girl, seeing that he had gained the stairs, called out after him:
“Well, thank you, sir.”
He waited outside the drawing-room door until the waltz should finish,
listening to the skirts that swept against it and to the shuffling of
feet. He was still discomposed by the girl’s bitter and sudden retort.
It had cast a gloom over him which he tried to dispel by arranging his
cuffs and the bows of his tie. He then took from his waistcoat pocket a
little paper and glanced at the headings he had made for his speech. He
was undecided about the lines from Robert Browning for he feared they
would be above the heads of his hearers. Some quotation that they would
recognise from Shakespeare or from the Melodies would be better. The
indelicate clacking of the men’s heels and the shuffling of their soles
reminded him that their grade of culture differed from his. He would
only make himself ridiculous by quoting poetry to them which they could
not understand. They would think that he was airing his superior
education. He would fail with them just as he had failed with the girl
in the pantry. He had taken up a wrong tone. His whole speech was a
mistake from first to last, an utter failure.
Just then his aunts and his wife came out of the ladies’ dressing-room.
His aunts were two small plainly dressed old women. Aunt Julia was an
inch or so the taller. Her hair, drawn low over the tops of her ears,
was grey; and grey also, with darker shadows, was her large flaccid
face. Though she was stout in build and stood erect her slow eyes and
parted lips gave her the appearance of a woman who did not know where
she was or where she was going. Aunt Kate was more vivacious. Her face,
healthier than her sister’s, was all puckers and creases, like a
shrivelled red apple, and her hair, braided in the same old-fashioned
way, had not lost its ripe nut colour.
They both kissed Gabriel frankly. He was their favourite nephew, the
son of their dead elder sister, Ellen, who had married T. J. Conroy of
the Port and Docks.
“Gretta tells me you’re not going to take a cab back to Monkstown
tonight, Gabriel,” said Aunt Kate.
“No,” said Gabriel, turning to his wife, “we had quite enough of that
last year, hadn’t we? Don’t you remember, Aunt Kate, what a cold Gretta
got out of it? Cab windows rattling all the way, and the east wind
blowing in after we passed Merrion. Very jolly it was. Gretta caught a
Aunt Kate frowned severely and nodded her head at every word.
“Quite right, Gabriel, quite right,” she said. “You can’t be too
“But as for Gretta there,” said Gabriel, “she’d walk home in the snow
if she were let.”
Mrs Conroy laughed.
“Don’t mind him, Aunt Kate,” she said. “He’s really an awful bother,
what with green shades for Tom’s eyes at night and making him do the
dumb-bells, and forcing Eva to eat the stirabout. The poor child! And
she simply hates the sight of it!… O, but you’ll never guess what he
makes me wear now!”
She broke out into a peal of laughter and glanced at her husband, whose
admiring and happy eyes had been wandering from her dress to her face
and hair. The two aunts laughed heartily too, for Gabriel’s solicitude
was a standing joke with them.
“Goloshes!” said Mrs Conroy. “That’s the latest. Whenever it’s wet
underfoot I must put on my goloshes. Tonight even he wanted me to put
them on, but I wouldn’t. The next thing he’ll buy me will be a diving
Gabriel laughed nervously and patted his tie reassuringly while Aunt
Kate nearly doubled herself, so heartily did she enjoy the joke. The
smile soon faded from Aunt Julia’s face and her mirthless eyes were
directed towards her nephew’s face. After a pause she asked:
“And what are goloshes, Gabriel?”
“Goloshes, Julia!” exclaimed her sister. “Goodness me, don’t you know
what goloshes are? You wear them over your … over your boots, Gretta,
“Yes,” said Mrs Conroy. “Guttapercha things. We both have a pair now.
Gabriel says everyone wears them on the continent.”
“O, on the continent,” murmured Aunt Julia, nodding her head slowly.
Gabriel knitted his brows and said, as if he were slightly angered:
“It’s nothing very wonderful but Gretta thinks it very funny because
she says the word reminds her of Christy Minstrels.”
“But tell me, Gabriel,” said Aunt Kate, with brisk tact. “Of course,
you’ve seen about the room. Gretta was saying….”
“O, the room is all right,” replied Gabriel. “I’ve taken one in the
“To be sure,” said Aunt Kate, “by far the best thing to do. And the
children, Gretta, you’re not anxious about them?”
“O, for one night,” said Mrs Conroy. “Besides, Bessie will look after
“To be sure,” said Aunt Kate again. “What a comfort it is to have a
girl like that, one you can depend on! There’s that Lily, I’m sure I
don’t know what has come over her lately. She’s not the girl she was at
Gabriel was about to ask his aunt some questions on this point but she
broke off suddenly to gaze after her sister who had wandered down the
stairs and was craning her neck over the banisters.
“Now, I ask you,” she said almost testily, “where is Julia going?
Julia! Julia! Where are you going?”
Julia, who had gone half way down one flight, came back and announced
At the same moment a clapping of hands and a final flourish of the
pianist told that the waltz had ended. The drawing-room door was opened
from within and some couples came out. Aunt Kate drew Gabriel aside
hurriedly and whispered into his ear:
“Slip down, Gabriel, like a good fellow and see if he’s all right, and
don’t let him up if he’s screwed. I’m sure he’s screwed. I’m sure he
Gabriel went to the stairs and listened over the banisters. He could
hear two persons talking in the pantry. Then he recognised Freddy
Malins’ laugh. He went down the stairs noisily.
“It’s such a relief,” said Aunt Kate to Mrs Conroy, “that Gabriel is
here. I always feel easier in my mind when he’s here…. Julia, there’s
Miss Daly and Miss Power will take some refreshment. Thanks for your
beautiful waltz, Miss Daly. It made lovely time.”
A tall wizen-faced man, with a stiff grizzled moustache and swarthy
skin, who was passing out with his partner said:
“And may we have some refreshment, too, Miss Morkan?”
“Julia,” said Aunt Kate summarily, “and here’s Mr Browne and Miss
Furlong. Take them in, Julia, with Miss Daly and Miss Power.”
“I’m the man for the ladies,” said Mr Browne, pursing his lips until
his moustache bristled and smiling in all his wrinkles. “You know, Miss
Morkan, the reason they are so fond of me is——”
He did not finish his sentence, but, seeing that Aunt Kate was out of
earshot, at once led the three young ladies into the back room. The
middle of the room was occupied by two square tables placed end to end,
and on these Aunt Julia and the caretaker were straightening and
smoothing a large cloth. On the sideboard were arrayed dishes and
plates, and glasses and bundles of knives and forks and spoons. The top
of the closed square piano served also as a sideboard for viands and
sweets. At a smaller sideboard in one corner two young men were
standing, drinking hop-bitters.
Mr Browne led his charges thither and invited them all, in jest, to
some ladies’ punch, hot, strong and sweet. As they said they never took
anything strong he opened three bottles of lemonade for them. Then he
asked one of the young men to move aside, and, taking hold of the
decanter, filled out for himself a goodly measure of whisky. The young
men eyed him respectfully while he took a trial sip.
“God help me,” he said, smiling, “it’s the doctor’s orders.”
His wizened face broke into a broader smile, and the three young ladies
laughed in musical echo to his pleasantry, swaying their bodies to and
fro, with nervous jerks of their shoulders. The boldest said:
“O, now, Mr Browne, I’m sure the doctor never ordered anything of the
Mr Browne took another sip of his whisky and said, with sidling
“Well, you see, I’m like the famous Mrs Cassidy, who is reported to
have said: ‘Now, Mary Grimes, if I don’t take it, make me take it, for
I feel I want it.’”
His hot face had leaned forward a little too confidentially and he had
assumed a very low Dublin accent so that the young ladies, with one
instinct, received his speech in silence. Miss Furlong, who was one of
Mary Jane’s pupils, asked Miss Daly what was the name of the pretty
waltz she had played; and Mr Browne, seeing that he was ignored, turned
promptly to the two young men who were more appreciative.
A red-faced young woman, dressed in pansy, came into the room,
excitedly clapping her hands and crying:
Close on her heels came Aunt Kate, crying:
“Two gentlemen and three ladies, Mary Jane!”
“O, here’s Mr Bergin and Mr Kerrigan,” said Mary Jane. “Mr Kerrigan,
will you take Miss Power? Miss Furlong, may I get you a partner, Mr
Bergin. O, that’ll just do now.”
“Three ladies, Mary Jane,” said Aunt Kate.
The two young gentlemen asked the ladies if they might have the
pleasure, and Mary Jane turned to Miss Daly.
“O, Miss Daly, you’re really awfully good, after playing for the last
two dances, but really we’re so short of ladies tonight.”
“I don’t mind in the least, Miss Morkan.”
“But I’ve a nice partner for you, Mr Bartell D’Arcy, the tenor. I’ll
get him to sing later on. All Dublin is raving about him.”
“Lovely voice, lovely voice!” said Aunt Kate.
As the piano had twice begun the prelude to the first figure Mary Jane
led her recruits quickly from the room. They had hardly gone when Aunt
Julia wandered slowly into the room, looking behind her at something.
“What is the matter, Julia?” asked Aunt Kate anxiously. “Who is it?”
Julia, who was carrying in a column of table-napkins, turned to her
sister and said, simply, as if the question had surprised her:
“It’s only Freddy, Kate, and Gabriel with him.”
In fact right behind her Gabriel could be seen piloting Freddy Malins
across the landing. The latter, a young man of about forty, was of
Gabriel’s size and build, with very round shoulders. His face was
fleshy and pallid, touched with colour only at the thick hanging lobes
of his ears and at the wide wings of his nose. He had coarse features,
a blunt nose, a convex and receding brow, tumid and protruded lips. His
heavy-lidded eyes and the disorder of his scanty hair made him look
sleepy. He was laughing heartily in a high key at a story which he had
been telling Gabriel on the stairs and at the same time rubbing the
knuckles of his left fist backwards and forwards into his left eye.
“Good-evening, Freddy,” said Aunt Julia.
Freddy Malins bade the Misses Morkan good-evening in what seemed an
offhand fashion by reason of the habitual catch in his voice and then,
seeing that Mr Browne was grinning at him from the sideboard, crossed
the room on rather shaky legs and began to repeat in an undertone the
story he had just told to Gabriel.
“He’s not so bad, is he?” said Aunt Kate to Gabriel.
Gabriel’s brows were dark but he raised them quickly and answered:
“O, no, hardly noticeable.”
“Now, isn’t he a terrible fellow!” she said. “And his poor mother made
him take the pledge on New Year’s Eve. But come on, Gabriel, into the
Before leaving the room with Gabriel she signalled to Mr Browne by
frowning and shaking her forefinger in warning to and fro. Mr Browne
nodded in answer and, when she had gone, said to Freddy Malins:
“Now, then, Teddy, I’m going to fill you out a good glass of lemonade
just to buck you up.”
Freddy Malins, who was nearing the climax of his story, waved the offer
aside impatiently but Mr Browne, having first called Freddy Malins’
attention to a disarray in his dress, filled out and handed him a full
glass of lemonade. Freddy Malins’ left hand accepted the glass
mechanically, his right hand being engaged in the mechanical
readjustment of his dress. Mr Browne, whose face was once more
wrinkling with mirth, poured out for himself a glass of whisky while
Freddy Malins exploded, before he had well reached the climax of his
story, in a kink of high-pitched bronchitic laughter and, setting down
his untasted and overflowing glass, began to rub the knuckles of his
left fist backwards and forwards into his left eye, repeating words of
his last phrase as well as his fit of laughter would allow him.
Gabriel could not listen while Mary Jane was playing her Academy piece,
full of runs and difficult passages, to the hushed drawing-room. He
liked music but the piece she was playing had no melody for him and he
doubted whether it had any melody for the other listeners, though they
had begged Mary Jane to play something. Four young men, who had come
from the refreshment-room to stand in the doorway at the sound of the
piano, had gone away quietly in couples after a few minutes. The only
persons who seemed to follow the music were Mary Jane herself, her
hands racing along the keyboard or lifted from it at the pauses like
those of a priestess in momentary imprecation, and Aunt Kate standing
at her elbow to turn the page.
Gabriel’s eyes, irritated by the floor, which glittered with beeswax
under the heavy chandelier, wandered to the wall above the piano. A
picture of the balcony scene in _Romeo and Juliet_ hung there and
beside it was a picture of the two murdered princes in the Tower which
Aunt Julia had worked in red, blue and brown wools when she was a girl.
Probably in the school they had gone to as girls that kind of work had
been taught for one year. His mother had worked for him as a birthday
present a waistcoat of purple tabinet, with little foxes’ heads upon
it, lined with brown satin and having round mulberry buttons. It was
strange that his mother had had no musical talent though Aunt Kate used
to call her the brains carrier of the Morkan family. Both she and Julia
had always seemed a little proud of their serious and matronly sister.
Her photograph stood before the pierglass. She held an open book on her
knees and was pointing out something in it to Constantine who, dressed
in a man-o’-war suit, lay at her feet. It was she who had chosen the
name of her sons for she was very sensible of the dignity of family
life. Thanks to her, Constantine was now senior curate in Balbrigan
and, thanks to her, Gabriel himself had taken his degree in the Royal
University. A shadow passed over his face as he remembered her sullen
opposition to his marriage. Some slighting phrases she had used still
rankled in his memory; she had once spoken of Gretta as being country
cute and that was not true of Gretta at all. It was Gretta who had
nursed her during all her last long illness in their house at
He knew that Mary Jane must be near the end of her piece for she was
playing again the opening melody with runs of scales after every bar
and while he waited for the end the resentment died down in his heart.
The piece ended with a trill of octaves in the treble and a final deep
octave in the bass. Great applause greeted Mary Jane as, blushing and
rolling up her music nervously, she escaped from the room. The most
vigorous clapping came from the four young men in the doorway who had
gone away to the refreshment-room at the beginning of the piece but had
come back when the piano had stopped.
Lancers were arranged. Gabriel found himself partnered with Miss Ivors.
She was a frank-mannered talkative young lady, with a freckled face and
prominent brown eyes. She did not wear a low-cut bodice and the large
brooch which was fixed in the front of her collar bore on it an Irish
device and motto.
When they had taken their places she said abruptly:
“I have a crow to pluck with you.”
“With me?” said Gabriel.
She nodded her head gravely.
“What is it?” asked Gabriel, smiling at her solemn manner.
“Who is G. C.?” answered Miss Ivors, turning her eyes upon him.
Gabriel coloured and was about to knit his brows, as if he did not
understand, when she said bluntly:
“O, innocent Amy! I have found out that you write for _The Daily
Express_. Now, aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”
“Why should I be ashamed of myself?” asked Gabriel, blinking his eyes
and trying to smile.
“Well, I’m ashamed of you,” said Miss Ivors frankly. “To say you’d
write for a paper like that. I didn’t think you were a West Briton.”
A look of perplexity appeared on Gabriel’s face. It was true that he
wrote a literary column every Wednesday in _The Daily Express_, for
which he was paid fifteen shillings. But that did not make him a West
Briton surely. The books he received for review were almost more
welcome than the paltry cheque. He loved to feel the covers and turn
over the pages of newly printed books. Nearly every day when his
teaching in the college was ended he used to wander down the quays to
the second-hand booksellers, to Hickey’s on Bachelor’s Walk, to Webb’s
or Massey’s on Aston’s Quay, or to O’Clohissey’s in the by-street. He
did not know how to meet her charge. He wanted to say that literature
was above politics. But they were friends of many years’ standing and
their careers had been parallel, first at the university and then as
teachers: he could not risk a grandiose phrase with her. He continued
blinking his eyes and trying to smile and murmured lamely that he saw
nothing political in writing reviews of books.
When their turn to cross had come he was still perplexed and
inattentive. Miss Ivors promptly took his hand in a warm grasp and said
in a soft friendly tone:
“Of course, I was only joking. Come, we cross now.”
When they were together again she spoke of the University question and
Gabriel felt more at ease. A friend of hers had shown her his review of
Browning’s poems. That was how she had found out the secret: but she
liked the review immensely. Then she said suddenly:
“O, Mr Conroy, will you come for an excursion to the Aran Isles this
summer? We’re going to stay there a whole month. It will be splendid
out in the Atlantic. You ought to come. Mr Clancy is coming, and Mr
Kilkelly and Kathleen Kearney. It would be splendid for Gretta too if
she’d come. She’s from Connacht, isn’t she?”
“Her people are,” said Gabriel shortly.
“But you will come, won’t you?” said Miss Ivors, laying her warm hand
eagerly on his arm.
“The fact is,” said Gabriel, “I have just arranged to go——”
“Go where?” asked Miss Ivors.
“Well, you know, every year I go for a cycling tour with some fellows
“But where?” asked Miss Ivors.
“Well, we usually go to France or Belgium or perhaps Germany,” said
“And why do you go to France and Belgium,” said Miss Ivors, “instead of
visiting your own land?”
“Well,” said Gabriel, “it’s partly to keep in touch with the languages
and partly for a change.”
“And haven’t you your own language to keep in touch with—Irish?” asked
“Well,” said Gabriel, “if it comes to that, you know, Irish is not my
Their neighbours had turned to listen to the cross-examination. Gabriel
glanced right and left nervously and tried to keep his good humour
under the ordeal which was making a blush invade his forehead.
“And haven’t you your own land to visit,” continued Miss Ivors, “that
you know nothing of, your own people, and your own country?”
“O, to tell you the truth,” retorted Gabriel suddenly, “I’m sick of my
own country, sick of it!”
“Why?” asked Miss Ivors.
Gabriel did not answer for his retort had heated him.
“Why?” repeated Miss Ivors.
They had to go visiting together and, as he had not answered her, Miss
Ivors said warmly:
“Of course, you’ve no answer.”
Gabriel tried to cover his agitation by taking part in the dance with
great energy. He avoided her eyes for he had seen a sour expression on
her face. But when they met in the long chain he was surprised to feel
his hand firmly pressed. She looked at him from under her brows for a
moment quizzically until he smiled. Then, just as the chain was about
to start again, she stood on tiptoe and whispered into his ear:
When the lancers were over Gabriel went away to a remote corner of the
room where Freddy Malins’ mother was sitting. She was a stout feeble
old woman with white hair. Her voice had a catch in it like her son’s
and she stuttered slightly. She had been told that Freddy had come and
that he was nearly all right. Gabriel asked her whether she had had a
good crossing. She lived with her married daughter in Glasgow and came
to Dublin on a visit once a year. She answered placidly that she had
had a beautiful crossing and that the captain had been most attentive
to her. She spoke also of the beautiful house her daughter kept in
Glasgow, and of all the friends they had there. While her tongue
rambled on Gabriel tried to banish from his mind all memory of the
unpleasant incident with Miss Ivors. Of course the girl or woman, or
whatever she was, was an enthusiast but there was a time for all
things. Perhaps he ought not to have answered her like that. But she
had no right to call him a West Briton before people, even in joke. She
had tried to make him ridiculous before people, heckling him and
staring at him with her rabbit’s eyes.
He saw his wife making her way towards him through the waltzing
couples. When she reached him she said into his ear:
“Gabriel, Aunt Kate wants to know won’t you carve the goose as usual.
Miss Daly will carve the ham and I’ll do the pudding.”
“All right,” said Gabriel.
“She’s sending in the younger ones first as soon as this waltz is over
so that we’ll have the table to ourselves.”
“Were you dancing?” asked Gabriel.
“Of course I was. Didn’t you see me? What row had you with Molly
“No row. Why? Did she say so?”
“Something like that. I’m trying to get that Mr D’Arcy to sing. He’s
full of conceit, I think.”
“There was no row,” said Gabriel moodily, “only she wanted me to go for
a trip to the west of Ireland and I said I wouldn’t.”
His wife clasped her hands excitedly and gave a little jump.
“O, do go, Gabriel,” she cried. “I’d love to see Galway again.”
“You can go if you like,” said Gabriel coldly.
She looked at him for a moment, then turned to Mrs Malins and said:
“There’s a nice husband for you, Mrs Malins.”
While she was threading her way back across the room Mrs Malins,
without adverting to the interruption, went on to tell Gabriel what
beautiful places there were in Scotland and beautiful scenery. Her
son-in-law brought them every year to the lakes and they used to go
fishing. Her son-in-law was a splendid fisher. One day he caught a
beautiful big fish and the man in the hotel cooked it for their dinner.
Gabriel hardly heard what she said. Now that supper was coming near he
began to think again about his speech and about the quotation. When he
saw Freddy Malins coming across the room to visit his mother Gabriel
left the chair free for him and retired into the embrasure of the
window. The room had already cleared and from the back room came the
clatter of plates and knives. Those who still remained in the
drawing-room seemed tired of dancing and were conversing quietly in
little groups. Gabriel’s warm trembling fingers tapped the cold pane of
the window. How cool it must be outside! How pleasant it would be to
walk out alone, first along by the river and then through the park! The
snow would be lying on the branches of the trees and forming a bright
cap on the top of the Wellington Monument. How much more pleasant it
would be there than at the supper-table!
He ran over the headings of his speech: Irish hospitality, sad
memories, the Three Graces, Paris, the quotation from Browning. He
repeated to himself a phrase he had written in his review: “One feels
that one is listening to a thought-tormented music.” Miss Ivors had
praised the review. Was she sincere? Had she really any life of her own
behind all her propagandism? There had never been any ill-feeling
between them until that night. It unnerved him to think that she would
be at the supper-table, looking up at him while he spoke with her
critical quizzing eyes. Perhaps she would not be sorry to see him fail
in his speech. An idea came into his mind and gave him courage. He
would say, alluding to Aunt Kate and Aunt Julia: “Ladies and Gentlemen,
the generation which is now on the wane among us may have had its
faults but for my part I think it had certain qualities of hospitality,
of humour, of humanity, which the new and very serious and
hypereducated generation that is growing up around us seems to me to
lack.” Very good: that was one for Miss Ivors. What did he care that
his aunts were only two ignorant old women?
A murmur in the room attracted his attention. Mr Browne was advancing
from the door, gallantly escorting Aunt Julia, who leaned upon his arm,
smiling and hanging her head. An irregular musketry of applause
escorted her also as far as the piano and then, as Mary Jane seated
herself on the stool, and Aunt Julia, no longer smiling, half turned so
as to pitch her voice fairly into the room, gradually ceased. Gabriel
recognised the prelude. It was that of an old song of Aunt
Julia’s—_Arrayed for the Bridal_. Her voice, strong and clear in tone,
attacked with great spirit the runs which embellish the air and though
she sang very rapidly she did not miss even the smallest of the grace
notes. To follow the voice, without looking at the singer’s face, was
to feel and share the excitement of swift and secure flight. Gabriel
applauded loudly with all the others at the close of the song and loud
applause was borne in from the invisible supper-table. It sounded so
genuine that a little colour struggled into Aunt Julia’s face as she
bent to replace in the music-stand the old leather-bound songbook that
had her initials on the cover. Freddy Malins, who had listened with his
head perched sideways to hear her better, was still applauding when
everyone else had ceased and talking animatedly to his mother who
nodded her head gravely and slowly in acquiescence. At last, when he
could clap no more, he stood up suddenly and hurried across the room to
Aunt Julia whose hand he seized and held in both his hands, shaking it
when words failed him or the catch in his voice proved too much for
“I was just telling my mother,” he said, “I never heard you sing so
well, never. No, I never heard your voice so good as it is tonight.
Now! Would you believe that now? That’s the truth. Upon my word and
honour that’s the truth. I never heard your voice sound so fresh and so
… so clear and fresh, never.”
Aunt Julia smiled broadly and murmured something about compliments as
she released her hand from his grasp. Mr Browne extended his open hand
towards her and said to those who were near him in the manner of a
showman introducing a prodigy to an audience:
“Miss Julia Morkan, my latest discovery!”
He was laughing very heartily at this himself when Freddy Malins turned
to him and said:
“Well, Browne, if you’re serious you might make a worse discovery. All
I can say is I never heard her sing half so well as long as I am coming
here. And that’s the honest truth.”
“Neither did I,” said Mr Browne. “I think her voice has greatly
Aunt Julia shrugged her shoulders and said with meek pride:
“Thirty years ago I hadn’t a bad voice as voices go.”
“I often told Julia,” said Aunt Kate emphatically, “that she was simply
thrown away in that choir. But she never would be said by me.”
She turned as if to appeal to the good sense of the others against a
refractory child while Aunt Julia gazed in front of her, a vague smile
of reminiscence playing on her face.
“No,” continued Aunt Kate, “she wouldn’t be said or led by anyone,
slaving there in that choir night and day, night and day. Six o’clock
on Christmas morning! And all for what?”
“Well, isn’t it for the honour of God, Aunt Kate?” asked Mary Jane,
twisting round on the piano-stool and smiling.
Aunt Kate turned fiercely on her niece and said:
“I know all about the honour of God, Mary Jane, but I think it’s not at
all honourable for the pope to turn out the women out of the choirs
that have slaved there all their lives and put little whipper-snappers
of boys over their heads. I suppose it is for the good of the Church if
the pope does it. But it’s not just, Mary Jane, and it’s not right.”
She had worked herself into a passion and would have continued in
defence of her sister for it was a sore subject with her but Mary Jane,
seeing that all the dancers had come back, intervened pacifically:
“Now, Aunt Kate, you’re giving scandal to Mr Browne who is of the other
Aunt Kate turned to Mr Browne, who was grinning at this allusion to his
religion, and said hastily:
“O, I don’t question the pope’s being right. I’m only a stupid old
woman and I wouldn’t presume to do such a thing. But there’s such a
thing as common everyday politeness and gratitude. And if I were in
Julia’s place I’d tell that Father Healey straight up to his face….”
“And besides, Aunt Kate,” said Mary Jane, “we really are all hungry and
when we are hungry we are all very quarrelsome.”
“And when we are thirsty we are also quarrelsome,” added Mr Browne.
“So that we had better go to supper,” said Mary Jane, “and finish the
On the landing outside the drawing-room Gabriel found his wife and Mary
Jane trying to persuade Miss Ivors to stay for supper. But Miss Ivors,
who had put on her hat and was buttoning her cloak, would not stay. She
did not feel in the least hungry and she had already overstayed her
“But only for ten minutes, Molly,” said Mrs Conroy. “That won’t delay
“To take a pick itself,” said Mary Jane, “after all your dancing.”
“I really couldn’t,” said Miss Ivors.
“I am afraid you didn’t enjoy yourself at all,” said Mary Jane
“Ever so much, I assure you,” said Miss Ivors, “but you really must let
me run off now.”
“But how can you get home?” asked Mrs Conroy.
“O, it’s only two steps up the quay.”
Gabriel hesitated a moment and said:
“If you will allow me, Miss Ivors, I’ll see you home if you are really
obliged to go.”
But Miss Ivors broke away from them.
“I won’t hear of it,” she cried. “For goodness’ sake go in to your
suppers and don’t mind me. I’m quite well able to take care of myself.”
“Well, you’re the comical girl, Molly,” said Mrs Conroy frankly.
“_Beannacht libh_,” cried Miss Ivors, with a laugh, as she ran down the
Mary Jane gazed after her, a moody puzzled expression on her face,
while Mrs Conroy leaned over the banisters to listen for the hall-door.
Gabriel asked himself was he the cause of her abrupt departure. But she
did not seem to be in ill humour: she had gone away laughing. He stared
blankly down the staircase.
At the moment Aunt Kate came toddling out of the supper-room, almost
wringing her hands in despair.
“Where is Gabriel?” she cried. “Where on earth is Gabriel? There’s
everyone waiting in there, stage to let, and nobody to carve the
“Here I am, Aunt Kate!” cried Gabriel, with sudden animation, “ready to
carve a flock of geese, if necessary.”
A fat brown goose lay at one end of the table and at the other end, on
a bed of creased paper strewn with sprigs of parsley, lay a great ham,
stripped of its outer skin and peppered over with crust crumbs, a neat
paper frill round its shin and beside this was a round of spiced beef.
Between these rival ends ran parallel lines of side-dishes: two little
minsters of jelly, red and yellow; a shallow dish full of blocks of
blancmange and red jam, a large green leaf-shaped dish with a
stalk-shaped handle, on which lay bunches of purple raisins and peeled
almonds, a companion dish on which lay a solid rectangle of Smyrna
figs, a dish of custard topped with grated nutmeg, a small bowl full of
chocolates and sweets wrapped in gold and silver papers and a glass
vase in which stood some tall celery stalks. In the centre of the table
there stood, as sentries to a fruit-stand which upheld a pyramid of
oranges and American apples, two squat old-fashioned decanters of cut
glass, one containing port and the other dark sherry. On the closed
square piano a pudding in a huge yellow dish lay in waiting and behind
it were three squads of bottles of stout and ale and minerals, drawn up
according to the colours of their uniforms, the first two black, with
brown and red labels, the third and smallest squad white, with
transverse green sashes.
Gabriel took his seat boldly at the head of the table and, having
looked to the edge of the carver, plunged his fork firmly into the
goose. He felt quite at ease now for he was an expert carver and liked
nothing better than to find himself at the head of a well-laden table.
“Miss Furlong, what shall I send you?” he asked. “A wing or a slice of
“Just a small slice of the breast.”
“Miss Higgins, what for you?”
“O, anything at all, Mr Conroy.”
While Gabriel and Miss Daly exchanged plates of goose and plates of ham
and spiced beef Lily went from guest to guest with a dish of hot floury
potatoes wrapped in a white napkin. This was Mary Jane’s idea and she
had also suggested apple sauce for the goose but Aunt Kate had said
that plain roast goose without any apple sauce had always been good
enough for her and she hoped she might never eat worse. Mary Jane
waited on her pupils and saw that they got the best slices and Aunt
Kate and Aunt Julia opened and carried across from the piano bottles of
stout and ale for the gentlemen and bottles of minerals for the ladies.
There was a great deal of confusion and laughter and noise, the noise
of orders and counter-orders, of knives and forks, of corks and
glass-stoppers. Gabriel began to carve second helpings as soon as he
had finished the first round without serving himself. Everyone
protested loudly so that he compromised by taking a long draught of
stout for he had found the carving hot work. Mary Jane settled down
quietly to her supper but Aunt Kate and Aunt Julia were still toddling
round the table, walking on each other’s heels, getting in each other’s
way and giving each other unheeded orders. Mr Browne begged of them to
sit down and eat their suppers and so did Gabriel but they said they
were time enough so that, at last, Freddy Malins stood up and,
capturing Aunt Kate, plumped her down on her chair amid general
When everyone had been well served Gabriel said, smiling:
“Now, if anyone wants a little more of what vulgar people call stuffing
let him or her speak.”
A chorus of voices invited him to begin his own supper and Lily came
forward with three potatoes which she had reserved for him.
“Very well,” said Gabriel amiably, as he took another preparatory
draught, “kindly forget my existence, ladies and gentlemen, for a few
He set to his supper and took no part in the conversation with which
the table covered Lily’s removal of the plates. The subject of talk was
the opera company which was then at the Theatre Royal. Mr Bartell
D’Arcy, the tenor, a dark-complexioned young man with a smart
moustache, praised very highly the leading contralto of the company but
Miss Furlong thought she had a rather vulgar style of production.
Freddy Malins said there was a negro chieftain singing in the second
part of the Gaiety pantomime who had one of the finest tenor voices he
had ever heard.
“Have you heard him?” he asked Mr Bartell D’Arcy across the table.
“No,” answered Mr Bartell D’Arcy carelessly.
“Because,” Freddy Malins explained, “now I’d be curious to hear your
opinion of him. I think he has a grand voice.”
“It takes Teddy to find out the really good things,” said Mr Browne
familiarly to the table.
“And why couldn’t he have a voice too?” asked Freddy Malins sharply.
“Is it because he’s only a black?”
Nobody answered this question and Mary Jane led the table back to the
legitimate opera. One of her pupils had given her a pass for _Mignon_.
Of course it was very fine, she said, but it made her think of poor
Georgina Burns. Mr Browne could go back farther still, to the old
Italian companies that used to come to Dublin—Tietjens, Ilma de Murzka,
Campanini, the great Trebelli, Giuglini, Ravelli, Aramburo. Those were
the days, he said, when there was something like singing to be heard in
Dublin. He told too of how the top gallery of the old Royal used to be
packed night after night, of how one night an Italian tenor had sung
five encores to _Let me like a Soldier fall_, introducing a high C
every time, and of how the gallery boys would sometimes in their
enthusiasm unyoke the horses from the carriage of some great _prima
donna_ and pull her themselves through the streets to her hotel. Why
did they never play the grand old operas now, he asked, _Dinorah,
Lucrezia Borgia?_ Because they could not get the voices to sing them:
that was why.
“Oh, well,” said Mr Bartell D’Arcy, “I presume there are as good
singers today as there were then.”
“Where are they?” asked Mr Browne defiantly.
“In London, Paris, Milan,” said Mr Bartell D’Arcy warmly. “I suppose
Caruso, for example, is quite as good, if not better than any of the
men you have mentioned.”
“Maybe so,” said Mr Browne. “But I may tell you I doubt it strongly.”
“O, I’d give anything to hear Caruso sing,” said Mary Jane.
“For me,” said Aunt Kate, who had been picking a bone, “there was only
one tenor. To please me, I mean. But I suppose none of you ever heard
“Who was he, Miss Morkan?” asked Mr Bartell D’Arcy politely.
“His name,” said Aunt Kate, “was Parkinson. I heard him when he was in
his prime and I think he had then the purest tenor voice that was ever
put into a man’s throat.”
“Strange,” said Mr Bartell D’Arcy. “I never even heard of him.”
“Yes, yes, Miss Morkan is right,” said Mr Browne. “I remember hearing
of old Parkinson but he’s too far back for me.”
“A beautiful pure sweet mellow English tenor,” said Aunt Kate with
Gabriel having finished, the huge pudding was transferred to the table.
The clatter of forks and spoons began again. Gabriel’s wife served out
spoonfuls of the pudding and passed the plates down the table. Midway
down they were held up by Mary Jane, who replenished them with
raspberry or orange jelly or with blancmange and jam. The pudding was
of Aunt Julia’s making and she received praises for it from all
quarters. She herself said that it was not quite brown enough.
“Well, I hope, Miss Morkan,” said Mr Browne, “that I’m brown enough for
you because, you know, I’m all brown.”
All the gentlemen, except Gabriel, ate some of the pudding out of
compliment to Aunt Julia. As Gabriel never ate sweets the celery had
been left for him. Freddy Malins also took a stalk of celery and ate it
with his pudding. He had been told that celery was a capital thing for
the blood and he was just then under doctor’s care. Mrs Malins, who had
been silent all through the supper, said that her son was going down to
Mount Melleray in a week or so. The table then spoke of Mount Melleray,
how bracing the air was down there, how hospitable the monks were and
how they never asked for a penny-piece from their guests.
“And do you mean to say,” asked Mr Browne incredulously, “that a chap
can go down there and put up there as if it were a hotel and live on
the fat of the land and then come away without paying anything?”
“O, most people give some donation to the monastery when they leave.”
said Mary Jane.
“I wish we had an institution like that in our Church,” said Mr Browne
He was astonished to hear that the monks never spoke, got up at two in
the morning and slept in their coffins. He asked what they did it for.
“That’s the rule of the order,” said Aunt Kate firmly.
“Yes, but why?” asked Mr Browne.
Aunt Kate repeated that it was the rule, that was all. Mr Browne still
seemed not to understand. Freddy Malins explained to him, as best he
could, that the monks were trying to make up for the sins committed by
all the sinners in the outside world. The explanation was not very
clear for Mr Browne grinned and said:
“I like that idea very much but wouldn’t a comfortable spring bed do
them as well as a coffin?”
“The coffin,” said Mary Jane, “is to remind them of their last end.”
As the subject had grown lugubrious it was buried in a silence of the
table during which Mrs Malins could be heard saying to her neighbour in
an indistinct undertone:
“They are very good men, the monks, very pious men.”
The raisins and almonds and figs and apples and oranges and chocolates
and sweets were now passed about the table and Aunt Julia invited all
the guests to have either port or sherry. At first Mr Bartell D’Arcy
refused to take either but one of his neighbours nudged him and
whispered something to him upon which he allowed his glass to be
filled. Gradually as the last glasses were being filled the
conversation ceased. A pause followed, broken only by the noise of the
wine and by unsettlings of chairs. The Misses Morkan, all three, looked
down at the tablecloth. Someone coughed once or twice and then a few
gentlemen patted the table gently as a signal for silence. The silence
came and Gabriel pushed back his chair.
The patting at once grew louder in encouragement and then ceased
altogether. Gabriel leaned his ten trembling fingers on the tablecloth
and smiled nervously at the company. Meeting a row of upturned faces he
raised his eyes to the chandelier. The piano was playing a waltz tune
and he could hear the skirts sweeping against the drawing-room door.
People, perhaps, were standing in the snow on the quay outside, gazing
up at the lighted windows and listening to the waltz music. The air was
pure there. In the distance lay the park where the trees were weighted
with snow. The Wellington Monument wore a gleaming cap of snow that
flashed westward over the white field of Fifteen Acres.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,
“It has fallen to my lot this evening, as in years past, to perform a
very pleasing task but a task for which I am afraid my poor powers as a
speaker are all too inadequate.”
“No, no!” said Mr Browne.
“But, however that may be, I can only ask you tonight to take the will
for the deed and to lend me your attention for a few moments while I
endeavour to express to you in words what my feelings are on this
“Ladies and Gentlemen, it is not the first time that we have gathered
together under this hospitable roof, around this hospitable board. It
is not the first time that we have been the recipients—or perhaps, I
had better say, the victims—of the hospitality of certain good ladies.”
He made a circle in the air with his arm and paused. Everyone laughed
or smiled at Aunt Kate and Aunt Julia and Mary Jane who all turned
crimson with pleasure. Gabriel went on more boldly:
“I feel more strongly with every recurring year that our country has no
tradition which does it so much honour and which it should guard so
jealously as that of its hospitality. It is a tradition that is unique
as far as my experience goes (and I have visited not a few places
abroad) among the modern nations. Some would say, perhaps, that with us
it is rather a failing than anything to be boasted of. But granted even
that, it is, to my mind, a princely failing, and one that I trust will
long be cultivated among us. Of one thing, at least, I am sure. As long
as this one roof shelters the good ladies aforesaid—and I wish from my
heart it may do so for many and many a long year to come—the tradition
of genuine warm-hearted courteous Irish hospitality, which our
forefathers have handed down to us and which we in turn must hand down
to our descendants, is still alive among us.”
A hearty murmur of assent ran round the table. It shot through
Gabriel’s mind that Miss Ivors was not there and that she had gone away
discourteously: and he said with confidence in himself:
“Ladies and Gentlemen,
“A new generation is growing up in our midst, a generation actuated by
new ideas and new principles. It is serious and enthusiastic for these
new ideas and its enthusiasm, even when it is misdirected, is, I
believe, in the main sincere. But we are living in a sceptical and, if
I may use the phrase, a thought-tormented age: and sometimes I fear
that this new generation, educated or hypereducated as it is, will lack
those qualities of humanity, of hospitality, of kindly humour which
belonged to an older day. Listening tonight to the names of all those
great singers of the past it seemed to me, I must confess, that we were
living in a less spacious age. Those days might, without exaggeration,
be called spacious days: and if they are gone beyond recall let us
hope, at least, that in gatherings such as this we shall still speak of
them with pride and affection, still cherish in our hearts the memory
of those dead and gone great ones whose fame the world will not
willingly let die.”
“Hear, hear!” said Mr Browne loudly.
“But yet,” continued Gabriel, his voice falling into a softer
inflection, “there are always in gatherings such as this sadder
thoughts that will recur to our minds: thoughts of the past, of youth,
of changes, of absent faces that we miss here tonight. Our path through
life is strewn with many such sad memories: and were we to brood upon
them always we could not find the heart to go on bravely with our work
among the living. We have all of us living duties and living affections
which claim, and rightly claim, our strenuous endeavours.
“Therefore, I will not linger on the past. I will not let any gloomy
moralising intrude upon us here tonight. Here we are gathered together
for a brief moment from the bustle and rush of our everyday routine. We
are met here as friends, in the spirit of good-fellowship, as
colleagues, also to a certain extent, in the true spirit of
_camaraderie_, and as the guests of—what shall I call them?—the Three
Graces of the Dublin musical world.”
The table burst into applause and laughter at this allusion. Aunt Julia
vainly asked each of her neighbours in turn to tell her what Gabriel
“He says we are the Three Graces, Aunt Julia,” said Mary Jane.
Aunt Julia did not understand but she looked up, smiling, at Gabriel,
who continued in the same vein:
“Ladies and Gentlemen,
“I will not attempt to play tonight the part that Paris played on
another occasion. I will not attempt to choose between them. The task
would be an invidious one and one beyond my poor powers. For when I
view them in turn, whether it be our chief hostess herself, whose good
heart, whose too good heart, has become a byword with all who know her,
or her sister, who seems to be gifted with perennial youth and whose
singing must have been a surprise and a revelation to us all tonight,
or, last but not least, when I consider our youngest hostess, talented,
cheerful, hard-working and the best of nieces, I confess, Ladies and
Gentlemen, that I do not know to which of them I should award the
Gabriel glanced down at his aunts and, seeing the large smile on Aunt
Julia’s face and the tears which had risen to Aunt Kate’s eyes,
hastened to his close. He raised his glass of port gallantly, while
every member of the company fingered a glass expectantly, and said
“Let us toast them all three together. Let us drink to their health,
wealth, long life, happiness and prosperity and may they long continue
to hold the proud and self-won position which they hold in their
profession and the position of honour and affection which they hold in
All the guests stood up, glass in hand, and turning towards the three
seated ladies, sang in unison, with Mr Browne as leader:
For they are jolly gay fellows,
For they are jolly gay fellows,
For they are jolly gay fellows,
Which nobody can deny.
Aunt Kate was making frank use of her handkerchief and even Aunt Julia
seemed moved. Freddy Malins beat time with his pudding-fork and the
singers turned towards one another, as if in melodious conference,
while they sang with emphasis:
Unless he tells a lie,
Unless he tells a lie.
Then, turning once more towards their hostesses, they sang:
For they are jolly gay fellows,
For they are jolly gay fellows,
For they are jolly gay fellows,
Which nobody can deny.
The acclamation which followed was taken up beyond the door of the
supper-room by many of the other guests and renewed time after time,
Freddy Malins acting as officer with his fork on high.
The piercing morning air came into the hall where they were standing so
that Aunt Kate said:
“Close the door, somebody. Mrs Malins will get her death of cold.”
“Browne is out there, Aunt Kate,” said Mary Jane.
“Browne is everywhere,” said Aunt Kate, lowering her voice.
Mary Jane laughed at her tone.
“Really,” she said archly, “he is very attentive.”
“He has been laid on here like the gas,” said Aunt Kate in the same
tone, “all during the Christmas.”
She laughed herself this time good-humouredly and then added quickly:
“But tell him to come in, Mary Jane, and close the door. I hope to
goodness he didn’t hear me.”
At that moment the hall-door was opened and Mr Browne came in from the
doorstep, laughing as if his heart would break. He was dressed in a
long green overcoat with mock astrakhan cuffs and collar and wore on
his head an oval fur cap. He pointed down the snow-covered quay from
where the sound of shrill prolonged whistling was borne in.
“Teddy will have all the cabs in Dublin out,” he said.
Gabriel advanced from the little pantry behind the office, struggling
into his overcoat and, looking round the hall, said:
“Gretta not down yet?”
“She’s getting on her things, Gabriel,” said Aunt Kate.
“Who’s playing up there?” asked Gabriel.
“Nobody. They’re all gone.”
“O no, Aunt Kate,” said Mary Jane. “Bartell D’Arcy and Miss O’Callaghan
aren’t gone yet.”
“Someone is fooling at the piano anyhow,” said Gabriel.
Mary Jane glanced at Gabriel and Mr Browne and said with a shiver:
“It makes me feel cold to look at you two gentlemen muffled up like
that. I wouldn’t like to face your journey home at this hour.”
“I’d like nothing better this minute,” said Mr Browne stoutly, “than a
rattling fine walk in the country or a fast drive with a good spanking
goer between the shafts.”
“We used to have a very good horse and trap at home,” said Aunt Julia
“The never-to-be-forgotten Johnny,” said Mary Jane, laughing.
Aunt Kate and Gabriel laughed too.
“Why, what was wonderful about Johnny?” asked Mr Browne.
“The late lamented Patrick Morkan, our grandfather, that is,” explained
Gabriel, “commonly known in his later years as the old gentleman, was a
“O now, Gabriel,” said Aunt Kate, laughing, “he had a starch mill.”
“Well, glue or starch,” said Gabriel, “the old gentleman had a horse by
the name of Johnny. And Johnny used to work in the old gentleman’s
mill, walking round and round in order to drive the mill. That was all
very well; but now comes the tragic part about Johnny. One fine day the
old gentleman thought he’d like to drive out with the quality to a
military review in the park.”
“The Lord have mercy on his soul,” said Aunt Kate compassionately.
“Amen,” said Gabriel. “So the old gentleman, as I said, harnessed
Johnny and put on his very best tall hat and his very best stock collar
and drove out in grand style from his ancestral mansion somewhere near
Back Lane, I think.”
Everyone laughed, even Mrs Malins, at Gabriel’s manner and Aunt Kate
“O now, Gabriel, he didn’t live in Back Lane, really. Only the mill was
“Out from the mansion of his forefathers,” continued Gabriel, “he drove
with Johnny. And everything went on beautifully until Johnny came in
sight of King Billy’s statue: and whether he fell in love with the
horse King Billy sits on or whether he thought he was back again in the
mill, anyhow he began to walk round the statue.”
Gabriel paced in a circle round the hall in his goloshes amid the
laughter of the others.
“Round and round he went,” said Gabriel, “and the old gentleman, who
was a very pompous old gentleman, was highly indignant. ‘Go on, sir!
What do you mean, sir? Johnny! Johnny! Most extraordinary conduct!
Can’t understand the horse!’”
The peal of laughter which followed Gabriel’s imitation of the incident
was interrupted by a resounding knock at the hall door. Mary Jane ran
to open it and let in Freddy Malins. Freddy Malins, with his hat well
back on his head and his shoulders humped with cold, was puffing and
steaming after his exertions.
“I could only get one cab,” he said.
“O, we’ll find another along the quay,” said Gabriel.
“Yes,” said Aunt Kate. “Better not keep Mrs Malins standing in the
Mrs Malins was helped down the front steps by her son and Mr Browne
and, after many manœuvres, hoisted into the cab. Freddy Malins
clambered in after her and spent a long time settling her on the seat,
Mr Browne helping him with advice. At last she was settled comfortably
and Freddy Malins invited Mr Browne into the cab. There was a good deal
of confused talk, and then Mr Browne got into the cab. The cabman
settled his rug over his knees, and bent down for the address. The
confusion grew greater and the cabman was directed differently by
Freddy Malins and Mr Browne, each of whom had his head out through a
window of the cab. The difficulty was to know where to drop Mr Browne
along the route, and Aunt Kate, Aunt Julia and Mary Jane helped the
discussion from the doorstep with cross-directions and contradictions
and abundance of laughter. As for Freddy Malins he was speechless with
laughter. He popped his head in and out of the window every moment to
the great danger of his hat, and told his mother how the discussion was
progressing, till at last Mr Browne shouted to the bewildered cabman
above the din of everybody’s laughter:
“Do you know Trinity College?”
“Yes, sir,” said the cabman.
“Well, drive bang up against Trinity College gates,” said Mr Browne,
“and then we’ll tell you where to go. You understand now?”
“Yes, sir,” said the cabman.
“Make like a bird for Trinity College.”
“Right, sir,” said the cabman.
The horse was whipped up and the cab rattled off along the quay amid a
chorus of laughter and adieus.
Gabriel had not gone to the door with the others. He was in a dark part
of the hall gazing up the staircase. A woman was standing near the top
of the first flight, in the shadow also. He could not see her face but
he could see the terracotta and salmon-pink panels of her skirt which
the shadow made appear black and white. It was his wife. She was
leaning on the banisters, listening to something. Gabriel was surprised
at her stillness and strained his ear to listen also. But he could hear
little save the noise of laughter and dispute on the front steps, a few
chords struck on the piano and a few notes of a man’s voice singing.
He stood still in the gloom of the hall, trying to catch the air that
the voice was singing and gazing up at his wife. There was grace and
mystery in her attitude as if she were a symbol of something. He asked
himself what is a woman standing on the stairs in the shadow, listening
to distant music, a symbol of. If he were a painter he would paint her
in that attitude. Her blue felt hat would show off the bronze of her
hair against the darkness and the dark panels of her skirt would show
off the light ones. _Distant Music_ he would call the picture if he
were a painter.
The hall-door was closed; and Aunt Kate, Aunt Julia and Mary Jane came
down the hall, still laughing.
“Well, isn’t Freddy terrible?” said Mary Jane. “He’s really terrible.”
Gabriel said nothing but pointed up the stairs towards where his wife
was standing. Now that the hall-door was closed the voice and the piano
could be heard more clearly. Gabriel held up his hand for them to be
silent. The song seemed to be in the old Irish tonality and the singer
seemed uncertain both of his words and of his voice. The voice, made
plaintive by distance and by the singer’s hoarseness, faintly
illuminated the cadence of the air with words expressing grief:
O, the rain falls on my heavy locks
And the dew wets my skin,
My babe lies cold….
“O,” exclaimed Mary Jane. “It’s Bartell D’Arcy singing and he wouldn’t
sing all the night. O, I’ll get him to sing a song before he goes.”
“O do, Mary Jane,” said Aunt Kate.
Mary Jane brushed past the others and ran to the staircase, but before
she reached it the singing stopped and the piano was closed abruptly.
“O, what a pity!” she cried. “Is he coming down, Gretta?”
Gabriel heard his wife answer yes and saw her come down towards them. A
few steps behind her were Mr Bartell D’Arcy and Miss O’Callaghan.
“O, Mr D’Arcy,” cried Mary Jane, “it’s downright mean of you to break
off like that when we were all in raptures listening to you.”
“I have been at him all the evening,” said Miss O’Callaghan, “and Mrs
Conroy too and he told us he had a dreadful cold and couldn’t sing.”
“O, Mr D’Arcy,” said Aunt Kate, “now that was a great fib to tell.”
“Can’t you see that I’m as hoarse as a crow?” said Mr D’Arcy roughly.
He went into the pantry hastily and put on his overcoat. The others,
taken aback by his rude speech, could find nothing to say. Aunt Kate
wrinkled her brows and made signs to the others to drop the subject. Mr
D’Arcy stood swathing his neck carefully and frowning.
“It’s the weather,” said Aunt Julia, after a pause.
“Yes, everybody has colds,” said Aunt Kate readily, “everybody.”
“They say,” said Mary Jane, “we haven’t had snow like it for thirty
years; and I read this morning in the newspapers that the snow is
general all over Ireland.”
“I love the look of snow,” said Aunt Julia sadly.
“So do I,” said Miss O’Callaghan. “I think Christmas is never really
Christmas unless we have the snow on the ground.”
“But poor Mr D’Arcy doesn’t like the snow,” said Aunt Kate, smiling.
Mr D’Arcy came from the pantry, fully swathed and buttoned, and in a
repentant tone told them the history of his cold. Everyone gave him
advice and said it was a great pity and urged him to be very careful of
his throat in the night air. Gabriel watched his wife, who did not join
in the conversation. She was standing right under the dusty fanlight
and the flame of the gas lit up the rich bronze of her hair, which he
had seen her drying at the fire a few days before. She was in the same
attitude and seemed unaware of the talk about her. At last she turned
towards them and Gabriel saw that there was colour on her cheeks and
that her eyes were shining. A sudden tide of joy went leaping out of
“Mr D’Arcy,” she said, “what is the name of that song you were
“It’s called _The Lass of Aughrim_,” said Mr D’Arcy, “but I couldn’t
remember it properly. Why? Do you know it?”
“_The Lass of Aughrim_,” she repeated. “I couldn’t think of the name.”
“It’s a very nice air,” said Mary Jane. “I’m sorry you were not in
“Now, Mary Jane,” said Aunt Kate, “don’t annoy Mr D’Arcy. I won’t have
Seeing that all were ready to start she shepherded them to the door,
where good-night was said:
“Well, good-night, Aunt Kate, and thanks for the pleasant evening.”
“Good-night, Gabriel. Good-night, Gretta!”
“Good-night, Aunt Kate, and thanks ever so much. Good-night, Aunt
“O, good-night, Gretta, I didn’t see you.”
“Good-night, Mr D’Arcy. Good-night, Miss O’Callaghan.”
“Good-night, Miss Morkan.”
“Good-night, all. Safe home.”
The morning was still dark. A dull yellow light brooded over the houses
and the river; and the sky seemed to be descending. It was slushy
underfoot; and only streaks and patches of snow lay on the roofs, on
the parapets of the quay and on the area railings. The lamps were still
burning redly in the murky air and, across the river, the palace of the
Four Courts stood out menacingly against the heavy sky.
She was walking on before him with Mr Bartell D’Arcy, her shoes in a
brown parcel tucked under one arm and her hands holding her skirt up
from the slush. She had no longer any grace of attitude but Gabriel’s
eyes were still bright with happiness. The blood went bounding along
his veins; and the thoughts went rioting through his brain, proud,
joyful, tender, valorous.
She was walking on before him so lightly and so erect that he longed to
run after her noiselessly, catch her by the shoulders and say something
foolish and affectionate into her ear. She seemed to him so frail that
he longed to defend her against something and then to be alone with
her. Moments of their secret life together burst like stars upon his
memory. A heliotrope envelope was lying beside his breakfast-cup and he
was caressing it with his hand. Birds were twittering in the ivy and
the sunny web of the curtain was shimmering along the floor: he could
not eat for happiness. They were standing on the crowded platform and
he was placing a ticket inside the warm palm of her glove. He was
standing with her in the cold, looking in through a grated window at a
man making bottles in a roaring furnace. It was very cold. Her face,
fragrant in the cold air, was quite close to his; and suddenly he
called out to the man at the furnace:
“Is the fire hot, sir?”
But the man could not hear with the noise of the furnace. It was just
as well. He might have answered rudely.
A wave of yet more tender joy escaped from his heart and went coursing
in warm flood along his arteries. Like the tender fire of stars moments
of their life together, that no one knew of or would ever know of,
broke upon and illumined his memory. He longed to recall to her those
moments, to make her forget the years of their dull existence together
and remember only their moments of ecstasy. For the years, he felt, had
not quenched his soul or hers. Their children, his writing, her
household cares had not quenched all their souls’ tender fire. In one
letter that he had written to her then he had said: “Why is it that
words like these seem to me so dull and cold? Is it because there is no
word tender enough to be your name?”
Like distant music these words that he had written years before were
borne towards him from the past. He longed to be alone with her. When
the others had gone away, when he and she were in their room in the
hotel, then they would be alone together. He would call her softly:
Perhaps she would not hear at once: she would be undressing. Then
something in his voice would strike her. She would turn and look at
At the corner of Winetavern Street they met a cab. He was glad of its
rattling noise as it saved him from conversation. She was looking out
of the window and seemed tired. The others spoke only a few words,
pointing out some building or street. The horse galloped along wearily
under the murky morning sky, dragging his old rattling box after his
heels, and Gabriel was again in a cab with her, galloping to catch the
boat, galloping to their honeymoon.
As the cab drove across O’Connell Bridge Miss O’Callaghan said:
“They say you never cross O’Connell Bridge without seeing a white
“I see a white man this time,” said Gabriel.
“Where?” asked Mr Bartell D’Arcy.
Gabriel pointed to the statue, on which lay patches of snow. Then he
nodded familiarly to it and waved his hand.
“Good-night, Dan,” he said gaily.
When the cab drew up before the hotel, Gabriel jumped out and, in spite
of Mr Bartell D’Arcy’s protest, paid the driver. He gave the man a
shilling over his fare. The man saluted and said:
“A prosperous New Year to you, sir.”
“The same to you,” said Gabriel cordially.
She leaned for a moment on his arm in getting out of the cab and while
standing at the curbstone, bidding the others good-night. She leaned
lightly on his arm, as lightly as when she had danced with him a few
hours before. He had felt proud and happy then, happy that she was his,
proud of her grace and wifely carriage. But now, after the kindling
again of so many memories, the first touch of her body, musical and
strange and perfumed, sent through him a keen pang of lust. Under cover
of her silence he pressed her arm closely to his side; and, as they
stood at the hotel door, he felt that they had escaped from their lives
and duties, escaped from home and friends and run away together with
wild and radiant hearts to a new adventure.
An old man was dozing in a great hooded chair in the hall. He lit a
candle in the office and went before them to the stairs. They followed
him in silence, their feet falling in soft thuds on the thickly
carpeted stairs. She mounted the stairs behind the porter, her head
bowed in the ascent, her frail shoulders curved as with a burden, her
skirt girt tightly about her. He could have flung his arms about her
hips and held her still, for his arms were trembling with desire to
seize her and only the stress of his nails against the palms of his
hands held the wild impulse of his body in check. The porter halted on
the stairs to settle his guttering candle. They halted too on the steps
below him. In the silence Gabriel could hear the falling of the molten
wax into the tray and the thumping of his own heart against his ribs.
The porter led them along a corridor and opened a door. Then he set his
unstable candle down on a toilet-table and asked at what hour they were
to be called in the morning.
“Eight,” said Gabriel.
The porter pointed to the tap of the electric-light and began a
muttered apology but Gabriel cut him short.
“We don’t want any light. We have light enough from the street. And I
say,” he added, pointing to the candle, “you might remove that handsome
article, like a good man.”
The porter took up his candle again, but slowly for he was surprised by
such a novel idea. Then he mumbled good-night and went out. Gabriel
shot the lock to.
A ghostly light from the street lamp lay in a long shaft from one
window to the door. Gabriel threw his overcoat and hat on a couch and
crossed the room towards the window. He looked down into the street in
order that his emotion might calm a little. Then he turned and leaned
against a chest of drawers with his back to the light. She had taken
off her hat and cloak and was standing before a large swinging mirror,
unhooking her waist. Gabriel paused for a few moments, watching her,
and then said:
She turned away from the mirror slowly and walked along the shaft of
light towards him. Her face looked so serious and weary that the words
would not pass Gabriel’s lips. No, it was not the moment yet.
“You looked tired,” he said.
“I am a little,” she answered.
“You don’t feel ill or weak?”
“No, tired: that’s all.”
She went on to the window and stood there, looking out. Gabriel waited
again and then, fearing that diffidence was about to conquer him, he
“By the way, Gretta!”
“What is it?”
“You know that poor fellow Malins?” he said quickly.
“Yes. What about him?”
“Well, poor fellow, he’s a decent sort of chap after all,” continued
Gabriel in a false voice. “He gave me back that sovereign I lent him,
and I didn’t expect it, really. It’s a pity he wouldn’t keep away from
that Browne, because he’s not a bad fellow, really.”
He was trembling now with annoyance. Why did she seem so abstracted? He
did not know how he could begin. Was she annoyed, too, about something?
If she would only turn to him or come to him of her own accord! To take
her as she was would be brutal. No, he must see some ardour in her eyes
first. He longed to be master of her strange mood.
“When did you lend him the pound?” she asked, after a pause.
Gabriel strove to restrain himself from breaking out into brutal
language about the sottish Malins and his pound. He longed to cry to
her from his soul, to crush her body against his, to overmaster her.
But he said:
“O, at Christmas, when he opened that little Christmas-card shop in
He was in such a fever of rage and desire that he did not hear her come
from the window. She stood before him for an instant, looking at him
strangely. Then, suddenly raising herself on tiptoe and resting her
hands lightly on his shoulders, she kissed him.
“You are a very generous person, Gabriel,” she said.
Gabriel, trembling with delight at her sudden kiss and at the
quaintness of her phrase, put his hands on her hair and began smoothing
it back, scarcely touching it with his fingers. The washing had made it
fine and brilliant. His heart was brimming over with happiness. Just
when he was wishing for it she had come to him of her own accord.
Perhaps her thoughts had been running with his. Perhaps she had felt
the impetuous desire that was in him, and then the yielding mood had
come upon her. Now that she had fallen to him so easily, he wondered
why he had been so diffident.
He stood, holding her head between his hands. Then, slipping one arm
swiftly about her body and drawing her towards him, he said softly:
“Gretta, dear, what are you thinking about?”
She did not answer nor yield wholly to his arm. He said again, softly:
“Tell me what it is, Gretta. I think I know what is the matter. Do I
She did not answer at once. Then she said in an outburst of tears:
“O, I am thinking about that song, _The Lass of Aughrim_.”
She broke loose from him and ran to the bed and, throwing her arms
across the bed-rail, hid her face. Gabriel stood stock-still for a
moment in astonishment and then followed her. As he passed in the way
of the cheval-glass he caught sight of himself in full length, his
broad, well-filled shirt-front, the face whose expression always
puzzled him when he saw it in a mirror and his glimmering gilt-rimmed
eyeglasses. He halted a few paces from her and said:
“What about the song? Why does that make you cry?”
She raised her head from her arms and dried her eyes with the back of
her hand like a child. A kinder note than he had intended went into his
“Why, Gretta?” he asked.
“I am thinking about a person long ago who used to sing that song.”
“And who was the person long ago?” asked Gabriel, smiling.
“It was a person I used to know in Galway when I was living with my
grandmother,” she said.
The smile passed away from Gabriel’s face. A dull anger began to gather
again at the back of his mind and the dull fires of his lust began to
glow angrily in his veins.
“Someone you were in love with?” he asked ironically.
“It was a young boy I used to know,” she answered, “named Michael
Furey. He used to sing that song, _The Lass of Aughrim_. He was very
Gabriel was silent. He did not wish her to think that he was interested
in this delicate boy.
“I can see him so plainly,” she said after a moment. “Such eyes as he
had: big, dark eyes! And such an expression in them—an expression!”
“O then, you were in love with him?” said Gabriel.
“I used to go out walking with him,” she said, “when I was in Galway.”
A thought flew across Gabriel’s mind.
“Perhaps that was why you wanted to go to Galway with that Ivors girl?”
he said coldly.
She looked at him and asked in surprise:
Her eyes made Gabriel feel awkward. He shrugged his shoulders and said:
“How do I know? To see him, perhaps.”
She looked away from him along the shaft of light towards the window in
“He is dead,” she said at length. “He died when he was only seventeen.
Isn’t it a terrible thing to die so young as that?”
“What was he?” asked Gabriel, still ironically.
“He was in the gasworks,” she said.
Gabriel felt humiliated by the failure of his irony and by the
evocation of this figure from the dead, a boy in the gasworks. While he
had been full of memories of their secret life together, full of
tenderness and joy and desire, she had been comparing him in her mind
with another. A shameful consciousness of his own person assailed him.
He saw himself as a ludicrous figure, acting as a pennyboy for his
aunts, a nervous, well-meaning sentimentalist, orating to vulgarians
and idealising his own clownish lusts, the pitiable fatuous fellow he
had caught a glimpse of in the mirror. Instinctively he turned his back
more to the light lest she might see the shame that burned upon his
He tried to keep up his tone of cold interrogation, but his voice when
he spoke was humble and indifferent.
“I suppose you were in love with this Michael Furey, Gretta,” he said.
“I was great with him at that time,” she said.
Her voice was veiled and sad. Gabriel, feeling now how vain it would be
to try to lead her whither he had purposed, caressed one of her hands
and said, also sadly:
“And what did he die of so young, Gretta? Consumption, was it?”
“I think he died for me,” she answered.
A vague terror seized Gabriel at this answer as if, at that hour when
he had hoped to triumph, some impalpable and vindictive being was
coming against him, gathering forces against him in its vague world.
But he shook himself free of it with an effort of reason and continued
to caress her hand. He did not question her again for he felt that she
would tell him of herself. Her hand was warm and moist: it did not
respond to his touch but he continued to caress it just as he had
caressed her first letter to him that spring morning.
“It was in the winter,” she said, “about the beginning of the winter
when I was going to leave my grandmother’s and come up here to the
convent. And he was ill at the time in his lodgings in Galway and
wouldn’t be let out and his people in Oughterard were written to. He
was in decline, they said, or something like that. I never knew
She paused for a moment and sighed.
“Poor fellow,” she said. “He was very fond of me and he was such a
gentle boy. We used to go out together, walking, you know, Gabriel,
like the way they do in the country. He was going to study singing only
for his health. He had a very good voice, poor Michael Furey.”
“Well; and then?” asked Gabriel.
“And then when it came to the time for me to leave Galway and come up
to the convent he was much worse and I wouldn’t be let see him so I
wrote him a letter saying I was going up to Dublin and would be back in
the summer and hoping he would be better then.”
She paused for a moment to get her voice under control and then went
“Then the night before I left I was in my grandmother’s house in Nuns’
Island, packing up, and I heard gravel thrown up against the window.
The window was so wet I couldn’t see so I ran downstairs as I was and
slipped out the back into the garden and there was the poor fellow at
the end of the garden, shivering.”
“And did you not tell him to go back?” asked Gabriel.
“I implored of him to go home at once and told him he would get his
death in the rain. But he said he did not want to live. I can see his
eyes as well as well! He was standing at the end of the wall where
there was a tree.”
“And did he go home?” asked Gabriel.
“Yes, he went home. And when I was only a week in the convent he died
and he was buried in Oughterard where his people came from. O, the day
I heard that, that he was dead!”
She stopped, choking with sobs and, overcome by emotion, flung herself
face downward on the bed, sobbing in the quilt. Gabriel held her hand
for a moment longer, irresolutely, and then, shy of intruding on her
grief, let it fall gently and walked quietly to the window.
She was fast asleep.
Gabriel, leaning on his elbow, looked for a few moments unresentfully
on her tangled hair and half-open mouth, listening to her deep-drawn
breath. So she had had that romance in her life: a man had died for her
sake. It hardly pained him now to think how poor a part he, her
husband, had played in her life. He watched her while she slept as
though he and she had never lived together as man and wife. His curious
eyes rested long upon her face and on her hair: and, as he thought of
what she must have been then, in that time of her first girlish beauty,
a strange, friendly pity for her entered his soul. He did not like to
say even to himself that her face was no longer beautiful but he knew
that it was no longer the face for which Michael Furey had braved
Perhaps she had not told him all the story. His eyes moved to the chair
over which she had thrown some of her clothes. A petticoat string
dangled to the floor. One boot stood upright, its limp upper fallen
down: the fellow of it lay upon its side. He wondered at his riot of
emotions of an hour before. From what had it proceeded? From his aunt’s
supper, from his own foolish speech, from the wine and dancing, the
merry-making when saying good-night in the hall, the pleasure of the
walk along the river in the snow. Poor Aunt Julia! She, too, would soon
be a shade with the shade of Patrick Morkan and his horse. He had
caught that haggard look upon her face for a moment when she was
singing _Arrayed for the Bridal_. Soon, perhaps, he would be sitting in
that same drawing-room, dressed in black, his silk hat on his knees.
The blinds would be drawn down and Aunt Kate would be sitting beside
him, crying and blowing her nose and telling him how Julia had died. He
would cast about in his mind for some words that might console her, and
would find only lame and useless ones. Yes, yes: that would happen very
The air of the room chilled his shoulders. He stretched himself
cautiously along under the sheets and lay down beside his wife. One by
one they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other
world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally
with age. He thought of how she who lay beside him had locked in her
heart for so many years that image of her lover’s eyes when he had told
her that he did not wish to live.
Generous tears filled Gabriel’s eyes. He had never felt like that
himself towards any woman but he knew that such a feeling must be love.
The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness
he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping
tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where
dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not
apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was
fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself which
these dead had one time reared and lived in was dissolving and
A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had
begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark,
falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to
set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow
was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark
central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of
Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous
Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely
churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly
drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the
little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard
the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like
the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.