The grey warm evening of August had descended upon the city and a mild warm air, a memory of summer, circulated in the streets. The streets, shutterethd for the repose of Sunday, swarmed with a gaily coloured crowd. Like illumined pearls the lamps shone from the summits of their tall poles upon the living texture below which, changing shape and hue unceasingly, sent up into the warm grey evening air an unchanging unceasing murmur. Two young men came down the hill of Rutland Square. One of them was just bringing a long monologue to a close. The other, who walked on the verge of the path and was at times obliged to step on to the road, owing to his companion’s rudeness, wore an amused listening face. He was squat and ruddy. A yachting cap was shoved far back from his forehead and the narrative to which he listened made constant waves of expression break forth over his face from the corners of his nose and eyes and mouth. Little jets of wheezing laughter followed one another out of his convulsed body. His eyes, twinkling with cunning enjoyment, glanced at every moment towards his companion’s face. Once or twice he rearranged the light waterproof which he had slung over one shoulder in toreador fashion. His breeches, his white rubber shoes and his jauntily slung waterproof expressed youth. But his figure fell into rotundity at the waist, his hair was scant and grey and his face, when the waves of expression had passed over it, had a ravaged look.
When he was quite sure that the narrative had ended he laughed noiselessly for fully half a minute. Then he said:
“Well!… That takes the biscuit!”
His voice seemed winnowed of vigour; and to enforce his words he added with humour:
“That takes the solitary, unique, and, if I may so call it, _recherché_biscuit!”
He became serious and silent when he had said this. His tongue was tired for he had been talking all the afternoon in a public-house in Dorset Street. Most people considered Lenehan a leech but, in spite of this reputation, his adroitness and eloquence had always prevented his friends from forming any general policy against him. He had a brave manner of coming up to a party of them in a bar and of holding himself nimbly at the borders of the company until he was included in a round.
He was a sporting vagrant armed with a vast stock of stories, limericks and riddles. He was insensitive to all kinds of discourtesy. No one knew how he achieved the stern task of living, but his name was vaguely associated with racing tissues.
“And where did you pick her up, Corley?” he asked. Corley ran his tongue swiftly along his upper lip.
“One night, man,” he said, “I was going along Dame Street and I spotted a fine tart under Waterhouse’s clock and said good-night, you know. So we went for a walk round by the canal and she told me she was a slavey in a house in Baggot Street. I put my arm round her and squeezed her a bit that night. Then next Sunday, man, I met her by appointment. We went out to Donnybrook and I brought her into a field there. She told me she used to go with a dairyman…. It was fine, man. Cigarettes every night she’d bring me and paying the tram out and back. And one night she brought me two bloody fine cigars—O, the real cheese, you know, that the old fellow used to smoke…. I was afraid, man, she’d get in the family way. But she’s up to the dodge.”
“Maybe she thinks you’ll marry her,” said Lenehan.
“I told her I was out of a job,” said Corley. “I told her I was in Pim’s. She doesn’t know my name. I was too hairy to tell her that. But she thinks I’m a bit of class, you know.”
Lenehan laughed again, noiselessly.
“Of all the good ones ever I heard,” he said, “that emphatically takes the biscuit.”
Corley’s stride acknowledged the compliment. The swing of his burly body made his friend execute a few light skips from the path to the roadway and back again. Corley was the son of an inspector of police and he had inherited his father’s frame and gait. He walked with his hands by his sides, holding himself erect and swaying his head from side to side. His head was large, globular and oily; it sweated in all weathers; and his large round hat, set upon it sideways, looked like a bulb which had grown out of another. He always stared straight before him as if he were on parade and, when he wished to gaze after someone in the street, it was necessary for him to move his body from the hips.
At present he was about town. Whenever any job was vacant a friend was always ready to give him the hard word. He was often to be seen walking with policemen in plain clothes, talking earnestly. He knew the inner side of all affairs and was fond of delivering final judgments. He spoke without listening to the speech of his companions. His conversation was mainly about himself: what he had said to such a person and what such a person had said to him and what he had said to settle the matter. When he reported these dialogues he aspirated the first letter of his name after the manner of Florentines.
Lenehan offered his friend a cigarette. As the two young men walked on through the crowd Corley occasionally turned to smile at some of the passing girls but Lenehan’s gaze was fixed on the large faint moon circled with a double halo. He watched earnestly the passing of the grey web of twilight across its face. At length he said:
“Well … tell me, Corley, I suppose you’ll be able to pull it off all right, eh?”
Corley closed one eye expressively as an answer.
“Is she game for that?” asked Lenehan dubiously. “You can never know women.”
“She’s all right,” said Corley. “I know the way to get around her, man. She’s a bit gone on me.”
“You’re what I call a gay Lothario,” said Lenehan. “And the proper kind of a Lothario, too!”
A shade of mockery relieved the servility of his manner. To save himself he had the habit of leaving his flattery open to the interpretation of raillery. But Corley had not a subtle mind.
“There’s nothing to touch a good slavey,” he affirmed. “Take my tip for it.”
“By one who has tried them all,” said Lenehan.
“First I used to go with girls, you know,” said Corley, unbosoming;
“girls off the South Circular. I used to take them out, man, on the tram somewhere and pay the tram or take them to a band or a play at the theatre or buy them chocolate and sweets or something that way. I used to spend money on them right enough,” he added, in a convincing tone, as if he was conscious of being disbelieved.
But Lenehan could well believe it; he nodded gravely.
“I know that game,” he said, “and it’s a mug’s game.”
“And damn the thing I ever got out of it,” said Corley.
“Ditto here,” said Lenehan.
“Only off of one of them,” said Corley.
He moistened his upper lip by running his tongue along it. The
recollection brightened his eyes. He too gazed at the pale disc of the
moon, now nearly veiled, and seemed to meditate.
“She was … a bit of all right,” he said regretfully.
He was silent again. Then he added:
“She’s on the turf now. I saw her driving down Earl Street one night
with two fellows with her on a car.”
“I suppose that’s your doing,” said Lenehan.
“There was others at her before me,” said Corley philosophically.
This time Lenehan was inclined to disbelieve. He shook his head to and
fro and smiled.
“You know you can’t kid me, Corley,” he said.
“Honest to God!” said Corley. “Didn’t she tell me herself?”
Lenehan made a tragic gesture.
“Base betrayer!” he said.
As they passed along the railings of Trinity College, Lenehan skipped
out into the road and peered up at the clock.
“Twenty after,” he said.
“Time enough,” said Corley. “She’ll be there all right. I always let
her wait a bit.”
Lenehan laughed quietly.
“Ecod! Corley, you know how to take them,” he said.
“I’m up to all their little tricks,” Corley confessed.
“But tell me,” said Lenehan again, “are you sure you can bring it off
all right? You know it’s a ticklish job. They’re damn close on that
point. Eh?… What?”
His bright, small eyes searched his companion’s face for reassurance.
Corley swung his head to and fro as if to toss aside an insistent
insect, and his brows gathered.
“I’ll pull it off,” he said. “Leave it to me, can’t you?”
Lenehan said no more. He did not wish to ruffle his friend’s temper, to
be sent to the devil and told that his advice was not wanted. A little
tact was necessary. But Corley’s brow was soon smooth again. His
thoughts were running another way.
“She’s a fine decent tart,” he said, with appreciation; “that’s what
They walked along Nassau Street and then turned into Kildare Street.
Not far from the porch of the club a harpist stood in the roadway,
playing to a little ring of listeners. He plucked at the wires
heedlessly, glancing quickly from time to time at the face of each
new-comer and from time to time, wearily also, at the sky. His harp,
too, heedless that her coverings had fallen about her knees, seemed
weary alike of the eyes of strangers and of her master’s hands. One
hand played in the bass the melody of _Silent, O Moyle_, while the
other hand careered in the treble after each group of notes. The notes
of the air sounded deep and full.
The two young men walked up the street without speaking, the mournful
music following them. When they reached Stephen’s Green they crossed
the road. Here the noise of trams, the lights and the crowd released
them from their silence.
“There she is!” said Corley.
At the corner of Hume Street a young woman was standing. She wore a
blue dress and a white sailor hat. She stood on the curbstone, swinging
a sunshade in one hand. Lenehan grew lively.
“Let’s have a look at her, Corley,” he said.
Corley glanced sideways at his friend and an unpleasant grin appeared
on his face.
“Are you trying to get inside me?” he asked.
“Damn it!” said Lenehan boldly, “I don’t want an introduction. All I
want is to have a look at her. I’m not going to eat her.”
“O…. A look at her?” said Corley, more amiably. “Well … I’ll tell
you what. I’ll go over and talk to her and you can pass by.”
“Right!” said Lenehan.
Corley had already thrown one leg over the chains when Lenehan called
“And after? Where will we meet?”
“Half ten,” answered Corley, bringing over his other leg.
“Corner of Merrion Street. We’ll be coming back.”
“Work it all right now,” said Lenehan in farewell.
Corley did not answer. He sauntered across the road swaying his head
from side to side. His bulk, his easy pace, and the solid sound of his
boots had something of the conqueror in them. He approached the young
woman and, without saluting, began at once to converse with her. She
swung her umbrella more quickly and executed half turns on her heels.
Once or twice when he spoke to her at close quarters she laughed and
bent her head.
Lenehan observed them for a few minutes. Then he walked rapidly along
beside the chains at some distance and crossed the road obliquely. As
he approached Hume Street corner he found the air heavily scented and
his eyes made a swift anxious scrutiny of the young woman’s appearance.
She had her Sunday finery on. Her blue serge skirt was held at the
waist by a belt of black leather. The great silver buckle of her belt
seemed to depress the centre of her body, catching the light stuff of
her white blouse like a clip. She wore a short black jacket with
mother-of-pearl buttons and a ragged black boa. The ends of her tulle
collarette had been carefully disordered and a big bunch of red flowers
was pinned in her bosom, stems upwards. Lenehan’s eyes noted
approvingly her stout short muscular body. Frank rude health glowed in
her face, on her fat red cheeks and in her unabashed blue eyes. Her
features were blunt. She had broad nostrils, a straggling mouth which
lay open in a contented leer, and two projecting front teeth. As he
passed Lenehan took off his cap and, after about ten seconds, Corley
returned a salute to the air. This he did by raising his hand vaguely
and pensively changing the angle of position of his hat.
Lenehan walked as far as the Shelbourne Hotel where he halted and
waited. After waiting for a little time he saw them coming towards him
and, when they turned to the right, he followed them, stepping lightly
in his white shoes, down one side of Merrion Square. As he walked on
slowly, timing his pace to theirs, he watched Corley’s head which
turned at every moment towards the young woman’s face like a big ball
revolving on a pivot. He kept the pair in view until he had seen them
climbing the stairs of the Donnybrook tram; then he turned about and
went back the way he had come.
Now that he was alone his face looked older. His gaiety seemed to
forsake him and, as he came by the railings of the Duke’s Lawn, he
allowed his hand to run along them. The air which the harpist had
played began to control his movements. His softly padded feet played
the melody while his fingers swept a scale of variations idly along the
railings after each group of notes.
He walked listlessly round Stephen’s Green and then down Grafton
Street. Though his eyes took note of many elements of the crowd through
which he passed they did so morosely. He found trivial all that was
meant to charm him and did not answer the glances which invited him to
be bold. He knew that he would have to speak a great deal, to invent
and to amuse, and his brain and throat were too dry for such a task.
The problem of how he could pass the hours till he met Corley again
troubled him a little. He could think of no way of passing them but to
keep on walking. He turned to the left when he came to the corner of
Rutland Square and felt more at ease in the dark quiet street, the
sombre look of which suited his mood. He paused at last before the
window of a poor-looking shop over which the words _Refreshment Bar_
were printed in white letters. On the glass of the window were two
flying inscriptions: _Ginger Beer_ and _Ginger Ale_. A cut ham was
exposed on a great blue dish while near it on a plate lay a segment of
very light plum-pudding. He eyed this food earnestly for some time and
then, after glancing warily up and down the street, went into the shop
He was hungry for, except some biscuits which he had asked two grudging
curates to bring him, he had eaten nothing since breakfast-time. He sat
down at an uncovered wooden table opposite two work-girls and a
mechanic. A slatternly girl waited on him.
“How much is a plate of peas?” he asked.
“Three halfpence, sir,” said the girl.
“Bring me a plate of peas,” he said, “and a bottle of ginger beer.”
He spoke roughly in order to belie his air of gentility for his entry
had been followed by a pause of talk. His face was heated. To appear
natural he pushed his cap back on his head and planted his elbows on
the table. The mechanic and the two work-girls examined him point by
point before resuming their conversation in a subdued voice. The girl
brought him a plate of grocer’s hot peas, seasoned with pepper and
vinegar, a fork and his ginger beer. He ate his food greedily and found
it so good that he made a note of the shop mentally. When he had eaten
all the peas he sipped his ginger beer and sat for some time thinking
of Corley’s adventure. In his imagination he beheld the pair of lovers
walking along some dark road; he heard Corley’s voice in deep energetic
gallantries and saw again the leer of the young woman’s mouth. This
vision made him feel keenly his own poverty of purse and spirit. He was
tired of knocking about, of pulling the devil by the tail, of shifts
and intrigues. He would be thirty-one in November. Would he never get a
good job? Would he never have a home of his own? He thought how
pleasant it would be to have a warm fire to sit by and a good dinner to
sit down to. He had walked the streets long enough with friends and
with girls. He knew what those friends were worth: he knew the girls
too. Experience had embittered his heart against the world. But all
hope had not left him. He felt better after having eaten than he had
felt before, less weary of his life, less vanquished in spirit. He
might yet be able to settle down in some snug corner and live happily
if he could only come across some good simple-minded girl with a little
of the ready.
He paid twopence halfpenny to the slatternly girl and went out of the
shop to begin his wandering again. He went into Capel Street and walked
along towards the City Hall. Then he turned into Dame Street. At the
corner of George’s Street he met two friends of his and stopped to
converse with them. He was glad that he could rest from all his
walking. His friends asked him had he seen Corley and what was the
latest. He replied that he had spent the day with Corley. His friends
talked very little. They looked vacantly after some figures in the
crowd and sometimes made a critical remark. One said that he had seen
Mac an hour before in Westmoreland Street. At this Lenehan said that he
had been with Mac the night before in Egan’s. The young man who had
seen Mac in Westmoreland Street asked was it true that Mac had won a
bit over a billiard match. Lenehan did not know: he said that Holohan
had stood them drinks in Egan’s.
He left his friends at a quarter to ten and went up George’s Street. He
turned to the left at the City Markets and walked on into Grafton
Street. The crowd of girls and young men had thinned and on his way up
the street he heard many groups and couples bidding one another
good-night. He went as far as the clock of the College of Surgeons: it
was on the stroke of ten. He set off briskly along the northern side of
the Green hurrying for fear Corley should return too soon. When he
reached the corner of Merrion Street he took his stand in the shadow of
a lamp and brought out one of the cigarettes which he had reserved and
lit it. He leaned against the lamp-post and kept his gaze fixed on the
part from which he expected to see Corley and the young woman return.
His mind became active again. He wondered had Corley managed it
successfully. He wondered if he had asked her yet or if he would leave
it to the last. He suffered all the pangs and thrills of his friend’s
situation as well as those of his own. But the memory of Corley’s
slowly revolving head calmed him somewhat: he was sure Corley would
pull it off all right. All at once the idea struck him that perhaps
Corley had seen her home by another way and given him the slip. His
eyes searched the street: there was no sign of them. Yet it was surely
half-an-hour since he had seen the clock of the College of Surgeons.
Would Corley do a thing like that? He lit his last cigarette and began
to smoke it nervously. He strained his eyes as each tram stopped at the
far corner of the square. They must have gone home by another way. The
paper of his cigarette broke and he flung it into the road with a
Suddenly he saw them coming towards him. He started with delight and,
keeping close to his lamp-post, tried to read the result in their walk.
They were walking quickly, the young woman taking quick short steps,
while Corley kept beside her with his long stride. They did not seem to
be speaking. An intimation of the result pricked him like the point of
a sharp instrument. He knew Corley would fail; he knew it was no go.
They turned down Baggot Street and he followed them at once, taking the
other footpath. When they stopped he stopped too. They talked for a few
moments and then the young woman went down the steps into the area of a
house. Corley remained standing at the edge of the path, a little
distance from the front steps. Some minutes passed. Then the hall-door
was opened slowly and cautiously. A woman came running down the front
steps and coughed. Corley turned and went towards her. His broad figure
hid hers from view for a few seconds and then she reappeared running up
the steps. The door closed on her and Corley began to walk swiftly
towards Stephen’s Green.
Lenehan hurried on in the same direction. Some drops of light rain
fell. He took them as a warning and, glancing back towards the house
which the young woman had entered to see that he was not observed, he
ran eagerly across the road. Anxiety and his swift run made him pant.
He called out:
Corley turned his head to see who had called him, and then continued
walking as before. Lenehan ran after him, settling the waterproof on
his shoulders with one hand.
“Hallo, Corley!” he cried again.
He came level with his friend and looked keenly in his face. He could
see nothing there.
“Well?” he said. “Did it come off?”
They had reached the corner of Ely Place. Still without answering,
Corley swerved to the left and went up the side street. His features
were composed in stern calm. Lenehan kept up with his friend, breathing
uneasily. He was baffled and a note of menace pierced through his
“Can’t you tell us?” he said. “Did you try her?”
Corley halted at the first lamp and stared grimly before him. Then with
a grave gesture he extended a hand towards the light and, smiling,
opened it slowly to the gaze of his disciple. A small gold coin shone
in the palm.