Speaker: Shall we sit down together for a while? Here on the hillside, where we can look down on the city . . .
Strumpet city in the sunset
So old, so sick with memories
Some they say are damned
But you, I know, will walk the streets of Paradise
Head high, and unashamed.
The Old Lady Says ‘No’, Denis Johnston
At 3.15 a.m., with spectral quiet, His Majesty’s yacht Victoria and Albert approached the harbour mouth and lay to. And at half past six, with the first light, the workmen had finished. They looked with some pride on the result of their labours. The floral arch was ready for the disembarkation. It stood mute and beautiful at the harbour mouth, its green leaves stirring a little in the dawn breeze, its crimson and gold banner announcing the warm welcome of the citizens with the words,
‘Come Back To Erin
God Bless Our King.’
From the gardens by the shore and from the garlands entwined about railings and lamp-posts throughout the town of Kingstown the wind stole the sweet breath of thousands of flowers. It had been a tender July night, calm at sea, warm on shore. Now that dawn had come they could see the fluttering pennants of the battleships, the three-stringed bunting about the clubs on the waterfront, the greenery and flowers entwined about the masts of the private yachts, the crimson and gold banners overhanging the sides. In contrast, the landing stage was dressed in St. Patrick’s Blue and Cream.
They went up through the town, under bunting and streamers, Japanese lanterns and fairy-lights, thousands of coloured gas-lamps. The workmen were tired. Their boots made an early-morning din. Their tongues were silent. They wanted their breakfasts.
Mary peeped from her bedroom window and saw them pass. Then she looked down the street and felt a thrill of excitement. She hoped to have the day off, because Mrs. Bradshaw had said either she or Miss Gilchrist, the cook, could take a free day in honour of the occasion. Miss Gilchrist had said she would refuse. She had political views and did not approve of British royalty. Mary’s difficulty would be to contact Fitz and tell him. They could look at the procession to the Viceregal Lodge and perhaps visit the prison ship which was lying at Custom House Dock. The advertisements said it was one hundred and seventeen years old, with cells on it and lifelike wax figures of prisoners. Mary was not sure that she would care much for that. But if Fitz was with her she might chance the visit.
She dressed quickly. She was not quite sure what shift Fitz was on, but she had left a note at the sweetshop to say that she would be off if Miss Gilchrist did not change her mind. They used the sweetshop as a post office. Fitz called out from the city when he was free and if there was no note he went off swimming at Seapoint. It had been hard to arrange meetings at first, because Fitz worked six twelve-hour shifts a week. Sometimes he was on night work and other times on day work. She had found it necessary to pretend that she had an aunt in the city in order to get out more frequently to see him. It was easy enough to deceive Mrs. Bradshaw about it. She was kind and prepared to be lenient if it helped Mary to make occasional visits, especially as Mary had said that the lady was old and delicate. She had not so far asked why Mary’s father, in his occasional letters about his daughter’s progress and welfare, had never mentioned the aunt, but the possibility that it might one day occur to her to do so had to be considered. The thought sometimes troubled Mary, but never for long. She was young, she was learning a job, she was happy to have swapped her father’s small farmhouse in County Cork for the luxury of serving in a large residence in the fashionable township of Kingstown. The Bradshaws were not demanding.
Mary knocked at the door of the Bradshaws’ bedroom at seven o’clock. They wished to breakfast early and to view the proceedings from their window. She prepared the breakfast room and was drawing the curtains when the door handle turned and a gentle voice said:
‘Good morning, my dear.’
It was Mrs. Bradshaw.
‘Good morning, ma’am.’
‘Tell Cook to have the tea especially strong this morning. Mr. Bradshaw had a most restless night.’
‘Yes, ma’am,’ Mary said. As she turned, the light fell full on her face, so that Mrs. Bradshaw smiled and remarked:
‘You look very pretty this morning. And such a lovely colour in your cheeks. I expect it is the excitement.’
Mary inclined her head modestly, letting her dark hair swing down against her cheeks.
‘Have you and Cook decided between you who is to have the day off?’
‘I think it’s me, ma’am.’
Mrs. Bradshaw acknowledged the correction. She was a short, grey woman of about fifty. The one child of her marriage had died when he was three. Nature had refused to repeat the experiment, which was a great blow. But it had taught her what it was to suffer and it had given her patience and understanding in her dealings with others. She said:
‘I’m glad it’s you. You’re young and will enjoy it. Besides, you will probably find time to visit your aunt.’
Mary coloured a little but Mrs. Bradshaw did not notice. She was peering through the window. Mary slipped out. Mrs. Bradshaw found that the sky was overcast. That was a pity. If it rained it would be such a disappointment to the Kingstown Decoration Committee.
The kitchen had a large window to compensate for the fact that it was a little below the level of the garden. Miss Gilchrist, the cook, prepared two portions of fresh fruit while Mary waited. In addition there was a liberal dish of liver and bacon and eggs for Mr. Bradshaw, who had the habit of dining more heartily than his thinnish frame would lead one to suppose. For Mrs. Bradshaw, who had never taken meat on Wednesdays since the death of her child, there was toast to go with her lightly boiled egg.
‘She was asking again about which of us was taking the day,’ Mary said, while she waited.
‘I told you last night,’ Miss Gilchrist said, ‘I’ve more to do than stand gawking at King Edward.’
‘But are you sure?’
‘Or Queen Alexandra.’
‘The decorations are wonderful,’ Mary said. ‘I was looking down at them from the bedroom window.’
‘And you can tell herself that if she doesn’t know my feelings on the subject of King and Empire by this time she damn well ought to, seeing I’m over thirty years with her.’
‘I couldn’t very well say that to her,’ Mary said, laughing.
‘He’s not Ireland’s king, anyway’
‘What difference does it make, whether he is nor not?’
‘You call yourself an Irishwoman, and you ask a question like that.’
‘Ah, it’s only a bit of excitement,’ Mary said, because she saw that Miss Gilchrist’s hands were trembling and her cheeks flushed with suppressed rage.
‘God be with my poor father and the brave Fenian brotherhood. There was men for you. Not like what’s going nowadays.’
Taking the tray and trying to ignore the old woman’s anger, Mary said:
‘Don’t forget that they’ll be firing off the guns at eight o’clock. They make a terrible noise, I’m told.’
Miss Gilchrist cocked her head as she squinted through the window at the overcast sky. With great satisfaction she said:
‘I’m glad to hear it. I hope it brings the bloody rain down on them.’
At breakfast Mr. Bradshaw betrayed his agitation several times by laying down his paper to consult his watch. He felt that the whole business of the visit was being overdone. He was not opposed in principle to honouring the royal visitors. As a retired civil servant he knew where his duties and his loyalty lay. He approved, for instance, of municipal decorations. In the paper he was trying to read, under the heading Kingstown Decoration Committee, the Chairman Arthur E. Mills, Esq., J.P., and the secretary M. A. Manning, Esq., Town Clerk, jointly acknowledged several subscriptions, including one of one guinea from R. A. Bradshaw, Esq. And, although neither he nor Mrs. Bradshaw would, for the life of them, venture that day into the crowded and confused streets, they had arranged to watch the procession from a window on the second floor, from which he had already hung a large banner with the words ‘God Save Our King’ picked out in gold letters. The evening would be marked by a special meal followed by an intimate musical party.
But Mr. Bradshaw had to look at the arrangements in a dual capacity. In addition to being a retired civil servant and a substantial shareholder in a number of well-established companies, he was the owner of five houses in an alley very close to the harbour. A family occupied each room. What would happen to these five infirm shells of tottering brick and their swarms of poverty-stricken humanity when His Majesty’s Navy blasted off a battery of heavy guns Mr. Bradshaw trembled to think. The nearby railway line had already caused damage enough.
‘You’re not eating, my dear,’ Mrs. Bradshaw said.
‘I keep thinking of this damned salute.’
‘I’m sure the houses will be quite safe.’
‘I wish I had your confidence. Why can’t they blow bugles or something?’
‘I expect they’ll do that as well.’
‘Or pipe him ashore.’
‘I think that’s only for admirals.’
‘They have decorations, floral arches, addresses of welcome, military bands. I’m as loyal as the next, I hope, but surely to goodness that ought to be enough without the criminal waste of useful and probably expensive ammunition. It is vulgar, apart from anything else. What time is it?’
‘It must be almost eight.’
Mr. Bradshaw consulted his watch again.
‘I make it five minutes to,’ he said, ‘but I may be fast.’
‘You must think of something else, something pleasant. We’ll have a lovely evening of music. Think forward to that.’
‘If all goes well in the meanwhile,’ Mr. Bradshaw said, in a tone which betrayed his grave doubt.
‘Young Father O’Connor is coming. He has a beautiful tenor voice.’
‘Too much wobble in it for my fancy,’ Mr. Bradshaw said, again consulting his watch.
‘And Mr. Yearling is bringing his ’cello. I’ll always remember the night you and Father O’Connor sang “The Moon Hath Raised”. Mr. Yearling extemporised beautifully by just looking at the piano score over my shoulder. I thought that very accomplished. It’s a great gift of his.’
‘He makes heavy inroads on my whiskey,’ Mr. Bradshaw said sourly, ‘that’s another great gift of his.’
Mrs. Bradshaw knew it was useless to talk to him when he had anything on his mind; he simply refused to be cheered. He had always been like that, easily worried and plunged into gloomy humours. Not indeed that she herself looked forward to the noise. It was all very well for soldiers, or young people with strong nerves. Still, she was certain there was nothing whatever to worry about. She noted that his cup was empty and reached across for the teapot.
‘Tea?’ she asked gently.
He put aside his paper and held out his cup.
‘Don’t quite fill it,’ he requested.
She began to pour. Suddenly a thundering salvo shook the room. The windows rattled and the tableware danced. Mr. Bradshaw jumped and let his cup and saucer slip from his fingers. Mrs. Bradshaw, in her efforts to stifle a scream, continued to pour strong tea over the tablecloth for some seconds. The royal party were coming ashore. Mr. Bradshaw’s watch had not been fast. It was, in fact, three minutes slow.
About an hour later the royal cortège left Kingstown. Mr. and Mrs. Bradshaw, recovered from their upset, waved loyally from the upstairs window. Mary stood behind them, her heart beating with excitement. The procession moved into Crofton Road, turned into Monkstown and paused at Blackrock for yet another address of welcome. The King had been informed of Kingstown’s determination to supply small cottages for the labouring classes and gave the scheme his unqualified approval. The health and efficiency of the labourer depended to a great extent, he said, on a happy home life. He was much touched by their warm and generous welcome. Thousands lined the royal route. They waved flags and bantered good-humouredly with the police. It was the same all the way along Rock Road, Ailesbury Road and Donnybrook. At Morehampton Road, a series of Venetian masts had been erected on both sides of the broad central avenue which divided Herbert Park and the route leading from there to the central bandstand quivered under gay bunting. Slender flag-staves with suitable banners had been affixed to the ornamental light standards. There was a wealth of flowers and plants. A journalist, recording their Majesties’ arrival at the exhibition, observed that the people raised lusty cheers of loyal welcome. He noted something further, something which might be interpreted as a manifestation of Divine approval. Just as the Anthem was being played the clouds dispersed, the July sun blazed out, the watching thousands cheered afresh. There had been some doubt about the sky’s intentions. Now they smiled at one another in relief. ‘King’s weather,’ they remarked.
At the speech of welcome there was a little incident which did not escape the attention of the onlookers. His Majesty, having replied, called for his sword. Lord Aberdeen spoke sotto voce to the organising chairman, Mr. Murphy. He was then obliged in turn to speak sotto voce to His Majesty, who moved on to other business with characteristic composure. A few astute onlookers tumbled to it that a knighthood had been refused.
It was the second small cloud to trouble the minds of those who were responsible for the King’s content during his short stay. The man directly concerned was Sir Arthur Vicars, Ulster King-at-Arms and custodian of the jewelled Royal Order of St. Patrick. These had mysteriously disappeared from Dublin Castle only a few days before. They were valued at over £50,000. Worse still, they were the jewels worn on state visits by the reigning Monarch of England. The King would have to do without them. Mr. Birrell, the Chief Secretary, was openly of the opinion that the Chief Herald and Ulster King-at-Arms had stolen them himself. Social opinion was divided between those who endorsed his view and those who deplored his lack of restraint. Meanwhile the Treasury, in a practical frame of mind, offered £1,000 reward for information leading to the recovery. And the King, imperceptibly diminished in splendour, went, unbejewelled, to the Viceregal Lodge.
Rashers Tierney rose that morning about the same time as King Edward. First the dog barked and then a hand reached down and shook his shoulder. It was very dark in the basement. The form above him could have been Death, or a ghost, or the hangover figure from a nightmare. Rashers was lying on straw. It was no cleaner than it could be in the damp and dirt of the almost windowless cellar. Recognising the figure at last as that of Mrs. Bartley, he threw aside the nondescript rags which covered him. There was no need for any modest precautions. He was fully dressed.
‘I boiled you a can of water,’ Mrs. Bartley said, ‘you’ll want it for to make tea.’
Rashers gurgled to dislodge the sleep phlegm from his throat and spat on the floor.
‘The blessings of God and His Holy Mother on you for the kind thought,’ he said.
‘You’re welcome,’ Mrs. Bartley said. She looked around the hovel. It distressed her. She lived herself in the front parlour with her husband and five children. There were ten rooms in the house and ten families. Nobody regarded Rashers’ room as being in the house. It was under it. It cost him one shilling and threepence a week—when he could pay it.
‘Did you see me little flags,’ Rashers asked, stretching his hand behind his pillow and dragging out a board for Mrs. Bartley’s inspection. They were home-made favours with four ribbons apiece.
‘They’re gorgeous, Mr. Tierney,’ she said.
‘Red, white and blue,’ Rashers said, ‘the colours of loyalty.’
‘My husband doesn’t hold with England,’ Mrs. Bartley said.
‘That’s been catered for,’ Rashers explained, showing her a sample, ‘the green ribbon is for Ireland.’
‘It doesn’t match up, somehow.’
‘It never did, ma’am,’ Rashers said. ‘Isn’t that what all the bloody commotion is about for the last seven hundred years?’
‘Wet your tea before the water’s gone cold for you.’ Rashers reached behind his pillow and brought out a tin from which he took part of a loaf, a tin of condensed milk and a jampot. He took out a cold potato too, but put it back. The rest he left on the straw beside him.
‘I brought you some bread.’
‘I have some,’ Rashers said.
‘It’s as hard as the rock of Cashel,’ Mrs. Bartley pronounced, having felt it.
‘It’ll soften up when I dip it in the tea,’ Rashers explained. ‘I’ll keep yours for afterwards.’
Mrs. Bartley sighed and handed him the spoon. He put in the tea.
‘What’s it doing out or what?’ he asked conversationally as he drank. He meant the weather.
‘It’s dull. I wouldn’t say it was a bit promising.’
‘Let’s hope to God the rain keeps off,’ Rashers said. ‘They’re more given to buying favours and things when it isn’t raining.’
‘Are you taking the dog?’
‘And have him walked on?’ Rashers asked.
‘If you’re not I’ll give him a little something later on.’
‘You’re a jewel.’
‘So long as he doesn’t take the hand off me in the process.’
‘Is it Rusty?’ He called the dog to his side.
‘That’s Mrs. Bartley,’ he explained to the dog, ‘and if you don’t know her by now you bloody well ought to. She’s to come and go as she pleases.’ He patted the dog and looked around at the empty floor.
‘He thinks you have your eye on the furniture,’ Rashers added. Mrs. Bartley laughed aloud.
‘Is the husband working again?’ Rashers asked.
‘All last week, four days this week and a bit promised for next.’
‘Look at that now,’ Rashers approved, ‘isn’t he having the life of Reilly.’
Mrs. Bartley said the children might be calling for her so she would leave the spoon and the can and get them when she was bringing down the scraps for Rusty. She hoped God would give him good luck with his selling.
‘I’ll be rattling shilling against shilling when I get home,’ Rashers said, ‘and the first thing I’ll buy is a tin whistle.’
‘You never found the one you lost?’
‘Never,’ Rashers said, ‘neither sign nor light of it from that day to this.’
‘Bad luck to the hand that took it.’
‘May God wither it,’ Rashers said. He had lost his tin whistle after a race meeting nearly a year before.
‘It was the drink, God forgive me,’ Rashers confessed.
‘It’s a very occasional failing with you,’ Mrs. Bartley said indulgently.
‘Drink and the sun. After the few drinks I lay down in the sun and it overpowered me. When I woke up the whistle was gone.’
‘The children miss it most of all,’ Mrs. Bartley said, ‘they loved you to play for them.’
‘Rusty too. I used to play to the two of us and we were never lonely.’
‘The best music you ever had is the bit you make yourself. It’s a great consolation.’
‘For man and beast alike, ma’am,’ Rashers assented. Mrs. Bartley had a very proper understanding of the whole thing.
When Mrs. Bartley had gone he got up and began to pull on socks, thinking of the whistle he had lost. It had been given to him by Mrs. Molloy, the woman who had reared him. It had earned him coppers at football matches and race meetings. His ambition was to replace it when he had the money to spare. He looked down at his socks and for the moment he forgot about the tin whistle. Both socks had holes in the toes and heels. He thought about that and took them off again. Then he put on his boots. They felt hard and uncomfortable for the amount of walking he would have to do. He took off his boots again, put on the socks and then put on his boots once more. He stood up and stretched. When he yawned, the few rotten teeth seemed very long because the gums had shrunk back almost to the roots. He took his overcoat from among the rags on the bed, tied it about his middle with a piece of cord and took his board with the coloured favours. He put a bottle and the bread into a short sack which he secured so that it hung from his waist. He shut the door on the dog, which whined, went up the decaying stairs, past the pram in the hallway and down the steps into the street.
The children in Chandlers Court jeered after him, but Rashers was used to that and scarcely heard them. He had already mapped out his journey in his mind. He would go over the iron bridge, through Ringsend and out the Strand Road to Merrion Gates. There would be a crowd there and on the way he could root in the ashbins of the big houses facing the strand. There were always scraps to be found that way. He could use the side streets to contact the crowds at various points along the route. It would be a long walk. By the time he got back from the procession to the Viceregal Lodge he would have covered ten to fourteen miles. But if he sold all his favours he would earn ten shillings. Rashers kept his mind on that. He deviated only once from his planned route and that was to look for some minutes into the window of McNeill’s music shop. It was still closed, a dingy little shop, with one dusty window and a small entrance door which needed painting. In the window, among instruments of a more aristocratic kind, there was a board displaying tin whistles. It said:
‘Superior toned Italian Flageolets.
Price: One Shilling’
They were masterly looking instruments, and ought to be, Rashers decided, at such an outrageous price. He stared at them for some time. Then he caught sight of his own face and the reflection of his favours in the glass window. He turned away.
The morning air had a sulphur smell about it, a compound of mist from the river, smoke from the ships, slow-drifting yellow fumes from the gas works. It was like the look on Rashers’ face. Hungry, dirty and, because so many things conspired to kill him, tenacious. His beard straggled. His gait was uncertain. He dragged his fifty years in each step forward through the streets of his city. She had not denied him her unique weapons. Almost from birth she had shaped his mind to regard life as a trivial moment which had slipped by mistake through the sieve of eternity, a scrap of absurdity which would glow for a little while before it was snatched back into eternity again. From her air, in common with numberless others about him, he had drawn the deep and unshakeable belief that the Son of God loved him and had suffered on earth for him and the hope that he would dwell with Jesus Christ and His Blessed Mother in Heaven. His city had never offered him anything else. Except her ashbins.
At the sweetshop Mary found her note had been collected and that one from Fitz had been left in its place.
‘He called last night,’ Mrs. Burns said, handing it to her.
‘At what time?’
‘It must have been about nine.’
Mary tried to remember what she had been doing at nine o’clock the previous evening. She remembered that she had been talking to Miss Gilchrist over a cup of cocoa. She remembered the scrubbed surface of the table, the sad, evening light outside, Miss Gilchrist’s talk of Fenians.
‘He was on his bicycle,’ Mrs. Burns volunteered.
‘Had he been swimming?’
‘He must have been. He had his togs wrapped about the handlebars.’
‘He was probably at Seapoint. Thank you, Mrs. Burns,’ she said, and went out into the street. She was suddenly shy of Mrs. Burns. The note read:
I’m going on at twelve tonight, finishing at twelve tomorrow. I’m hoping you will be free. You remember you said you might. I’ll be at the usual place from two o’clock. Even if it is much longer than that before you are free don’t feel it would be too late. I’ll wait.
What do you think of the decorations?
PS. Give my regards to King Ed.
She folded the note and saw that it was almost half past one by the town hall clock. Fitz would be waiting at the Liffey Wall, where Butt Bridge let the heavy traffic cross from the South Wall into Beresford Place. The sun was now full and warm in the cloudless July sky, so she travelled on the top section of the tram. It was open to the heat and the light. There was hardly anybody else. The trolley sang and rattled in front of her, bucking and sparking when the wires above it crossed at junctions, its great spring stretching and contracting like a concertina. She would be late, but Fitz would not mind. It was over a year now since their first meeting. It had happened at Seapoint too. She had gone down to the strand, passing close to a young man who was sitting on the rocks and who smiled at her. She ignored him. Down at the water’s edge she removed her shoes and began to paddle, holding her skirts away from the water but as little as possible because of the young man. He was watching her. Although there was no one else on the beach the situation did not trouble her. It had been a nice smile. She felt quite sure there was nothing to worry about and that the young man meant nothing more dangerous than gentlemanly admiration. It was nice to be admired from a respectful distance, to feel the water cool about her ankles and look down through it at the wrinkled sand. She paddled for half an hour and was on her way across the sand to fold a spot where she could sit and put on her shoes again when she walked on the shell. It cut deeply into the sole of her foot and when she felt the pain and saw the gush of red blood she cried out and stumbled. Tears clouded her eyes so that when eventually the young man bent over her she felt his presence for quite a while before she could see him clearly.
‘That’s a bad gash,’ he said, ‘let me help you.’
It was embarrassing to sprawl with bare feet on the damp sand under the eyes of a complete stranger. She felt foolish and undignified. But when she rose and tried to walk by herself she was unable.
‘Look, I know something about this,’ the young man said.
She made a rapid appraisal of him. He had a very pleasant face with dark hair and eyes which reflected kindness and concern. It was a good face. Everything was all right.
‘You’re very kind,’ she said.
He drew her arm around his shoulder and put his other arm about her waist. That shocked her for a moment until she realised that it was necessary. He was half lifting her and his grip was firm. She could feel his body against hers. The sensation was pleasant. He released her when they reached the rocks and examined the cut.
‘Have you a handkerchief?’ he asked. His own was coloured and they thought it might be dangerous. She produced one which was too small to be of use. He went away some distance and returned with his towel which he tore into strips.
‘This’ll do the job,’ he said.
Mary who found destruction of any kind unbearable, protested.
‘Your good towel, it’s a shame.’
‘What’s a towel,’ he said carelessly, and went on bandaging. It was a neat job. She found she could get her shoe on.
‘That’s wonderful,’ she said.
He smiled at her.
‘I look after the first-aid box and that sort of thing on the job,’ he explained.
‘You’re quite an expert.’
‘You’d better rest it for a while,’ he said.
They sat together, silent.
‘I’m on shift work in Morgan’s Foundry,’ he said.
‘Are you long there?’
‘Three years constant. Of course I was casual before that.’
‘You stand at the gate every morning and at eight o’clock the foreman comes out and says “I want you, you, you and you.” ’
He gave an imitation of the foreman singling out the lucky ones.
‘What happens if he doesn’t select you?’
‘You drift round to the quays and see if you can get work discharging. If you can’t you go home and hope for better luck the next time.’
‘But you don’t have to stand at the gate now?’
‘No. I’m constant in No. 3 house—a stoker.’
He pulled up the left sleeve of his jacket. There was a long red weal on his arm.
‘That was a present from No. 3 furnace I got the other day. It empties hot ash on you if you don’t keep your eyes skinned.’
‘Did it burn through your jacket?’ she asked. She found it hard to believe.
He hesitated. He put it as delicately as he could.
‘We don’t usually wear very much when we’re stoking,’ he said.
She realised that he meant they worked stripped.
‘Well,’ she said, glossing it over, ‘I’m lucky you weren’t stoking today.’
‘So am I,’ he said.
There was no mistaking what he meant.
She was pleased but was careful not to betray it.
‘I think it’s time I tried to get home,’ she said, rising.
He rose with her. Again she found it painful to put very much weight on her foot.
‘Let me help you,’ he said.
She consented, but this time she managed by allowing him only to link her. They reached his bicycle and after some persuasion she agreed to let him take her on the carrier. When they reached Kingstown she made him bring her to Mrs. Burns’ shop, where they parted, Mrs. Burns undertaking to see her home. He said his name was Bob Fitzpatrick and he would like very much to meet her again. But she was doubtful.
The next day, much to her relief, he left a note for her at Mrs. Burns’. And the next day again. The little sweetshop became a sort of private post office. It had continued so as their meetings became more frequent and their love grew.
The tram stopped short of the city centre and Mary had to get off. The royal procession had just passed, or was passing, or was about to pass, on its way to the Viceregal Lodge. The conductor was not sure. Mary forced her way through the crowd, which grew larger and less penetrable the further she went. Eventually she found herself jammed and immobilised. She thought of Fitz waiting at Butt Bridge and looked around desperately for a way out. There was none. She held tightly to her purse, remembering the newspaper warning about pickpockets. The royal occasion had drawn them in hundreds to the city. There were gentlemen in bowler hats, younger men in caps and knickerbockers, an odd policeman here and there keeping sharp eyes on the crowd. A ragged man with a beard was singing out a rigmarole to draw attention to the favours on his board.
‘One penny each the lovely ribbings. Red for royalty, white for fraternity, blue for Britannia and green for the beam of the fair isle of Erin. Buy your emblems of honour.’
It was Rashers Tierney. He came towards Mary. It was part of his technique to be able to move in the densest gathering.
‘Buy a favour, miss,’ he said to her.
She shook her head. She was thinking about Fitz.
‘For luck, lady,’ Rashers persisted. He held one up to her.
There was something hungry in his face which moved her. She gave him a penny. He pinned the ribbons in her coat.
‘God bless and reward you,’ he said, moving on.
She tried to do so too but made little progress.
A band was approaching, unseen but faintly heard. Horses stamped and pennants, at a great distance, tossed in orderly file above the heads of the crowd. A cheer began, travelling through the street until those around Mary joined in. It was overpoweringly warm as the heat of packed bodies augmented the blaze of the sun. Yet there was a communicated excitement too which drew Mary to her toes. She found it hard to understand Miss Gilchrist’s bitterness against the King. Patriots had been put in gaol and banished into penal servitude, of course, but you could not expect a king or a queen to do nothing to people who openly threatened to take over the country themselves. They made beautiful speeches, the patriots. They defied their judges and said they preferred English chains or even the gallows to an English king ruling over Ireland. Yet when all was said and done what great difference would it make, whether King Edward or the others ruled over Ireland? Would the patriots come back and live in Cahirdermot, scratching for a living like her father and her father’s people? Kings built great cities and that was why there were aristocrats and gentry and after them business people and then shopkeepers and then tradesmen and then poor people like Fitz and herself. Who would give work if there were no kings and gentry and the rest? No one ever said anything about that.
The band was now directly in front, so that now and then, between shoulders and heads, she caught the sudden flash of sun on the instruments. The roar of the people became louder and everybody said the King and Queen were at that moment passing. The men took off their hats, the crowd tightened and tightened. Mary looked behind and saw students clinging to the railings of Trinity College. They wore striped blazers and whirled their flat straw hats over their heads. Some of them were skylarking, of course, as young gentlemen always did on such occasions. One of them even had a policeman’s helmet wherever he had managed to get it. Mary felt the pressure easing and heard the notes of the band growing fainter, but the rhythmic chorus of carriage wheels over paving setts continued. People stopped cheering and talked to each other. Mary looked about once again for a way of escape. She frowned and bit her lip in perplexity, her thoughts so fixed on her purpose that at first the disturbance passed unnoticed. She felt the movement in the crowd for some time before the shouting of a raucous voice drew her eyes to her right. They rested on Rashers, who was pushing in her direction once more. There was a startling change in his face. It was working curiously and his arms were jerking with excited movements.
‘Come back, you bloody hill-and-dale robber,’ he was shouting, ‘come back with my few hard-earned ha’pence.’
He stopped close to Mary and appealed to the crowd.
‘Why couldn’t youse stop him? What ails the world that youse let a lousy pickpocket past youse?’
The people near him smiled. It maddened Rashers.
‘That’s right,’ he howled, ‘laugh. That’s all you were ever good at. A lousy lot of laughing loyalists. By Jasus, if I get my hands on that slippery fingers I’ll have his sacred life.’
Rashers pushed violently to force a passage. He swore at those in his way. His struggles and his curses attracted a widening circle of attention, until a section of the crowd opened and a policeman appeared. Rashers in his excitement gripped him by the tunic. The policeman pulled his hand away and caught him by the collar.
‘What’s all the commotion?’ he asked. Rashers squirmed.
‘I’ve been rooked by a bloody pickpocket,’ Rashers said, ‘while you and your like were gaping at his shagging majesty.’
‘You’d better come with me,’ the policeman said, twisting up Rashers’ coat.
‘What for?’ Rashers bawled, ‘for being bloodywell robbed, is it?’
‘And watch your language,’ the policeman said.
Rashers turned in his grip to fix a vicious eye on him.
‘That’s all you and the likes of you were ever good at,’ he said, ‘manhandling the bloody poor.’ He clawed at the policeman’s uniform, dislodging a loose button. The policeman’s face became thunderous.
‘Shut your mouth,’ the policeman said.
‘Shut your own,’ Rashers yelled. There was a line of foam about his lips. The policeman slapped him hard on the side of the mouth and twisted his arm. Rashers yelled with pain. Then the policeman began to hustle him through the crowd. They parted respectfully. Mary followed. The policeman was making a road for her which would lead eventually to Fitz. As she walked she caught glimpses now and then of Rashers. The blood on his mouth increased the pallor of his skin. His eyes were half closed and his teeth were clenched tight. Yet in the line of his jaw there was something unbreakable and defiant, a spirit which could bear with suffering because from experience it knew that it must eventually, like everything else, have an end. At the edge of the crowd Mary stood and stared after the policeman, wanting to do something for Rashers, to help in some way. But she could think of nothing to say that would be of any use. After a while she gave up and turned in the direction of Butt Bridge.
Rashers was brought to College Street station, where the duty sergeant glanced at him over a sheaf of reports.
‘What’s this?’ he asked the policeman.
‘Obscene language and conduct likely to lead to a breach of the peace.’
The policeman wiped sweat from his face. The day was too warm for even mild exertion.
‘Drink, I suppose?’
‘Drink how-are-you,’ Rashers said. ‘I was lifted of nine and fourpence by some louser of a pickpocket.’
The sergeant looked at the policeman.
‘That’s as may be,’ the policeman said, ‘but what about this?’
He pointed to his uniform where the button was missing.
‘I see,’ the sergeant said, ‘another George Hackenschmidt.’
The policeman smiled at the reference to the popular wrestler.
‘The real thing, Sergeant,’ he confirmed.
The sergeant relished his joke again.
‘What else?’ he asked.
‘For one, the use of an inflammatory expression.’
‘To wit?’ asked the sergeant.
‘Better and better,’ said the sergeant.
He turned furiously on Rashers.
‘So you’re a bit of a Republican too,’ he said. Rashers made no answer.
‘Name?’ the sergeant barked.
The sergeant put down his pen.
‘They never poured holy water on the likes of that,’ he said.
The policeman took a hand.
‘Give the sergeant your proper Christian name,’ he ordered.
‘I haven’t got a Christian name.’
‘Then you’d better bloodywell find one,’ the sergeant said. He had grown red and angry. He turned to the policeman and added, ‘Lock him up inside there for a while. Maybe it’ll jog his memory.’
Rashers was put in a cell. It had a rough bed which he sat down on gratefully. The socks were cutting into his feet. He ached all over. At intervals they came to demand his Christian name. He was afraid to invent one because that would convince them that he had been stubborn in the first instance. He kept answering ‘Rashers’. They determined to be as stubborn as he was.
Mary saw Fitz from a distance. He was leaning on the wall of the river. At the sight of him she hurried her step.
‘You got away,’ he said, looking down at her.
She smiled up at him and touched his hand lightly.
‘I very nearly didn’t. The tram was held up and then I got mixed up with the crowds.’
She wondered why he was staring at her coat. She looked down and saw the ribbons.
‘Oh, those,’ she said. ‘I bought them from an old man. He looked hungry.’
She wondered if Fitz had been waiting long.
‘Did you see the procession?’ she asked.
‘I stayed here in case I’d miss you. I heard the bands, though.’
‘It was impossible to see anything. The crowd was frightening.’
‘Where would you like to go?’
‘I don’t mind. Somewhere quiet.’
‘The prison ship? It’s just down beyond the Custom House.’
‘You’ve changed your mind.’
‘The old man who sold me the ribbons was hit on the mouth by a policeman and his arm twisted until it was nearly broken. I don’t want to see anything today that would remind me of that.’
‘Poor Mary,’ Fitz said, taking her arm gently.
They decided against going to Phoenix Park because the garden party at the Viceregal Lodge was bound to attract numerous sightseers. Fitz suggested a walk along the sandbanks beyond Pigeon House Fort. They took the tram as far as Irishtown and when they reached the seafront they took off their shoes and began to walk together across the ebbed strand. It was a mile or more to the sandbanks. They waded through pools in which the water had grown warm from the strong sun and crossed swift-flowing rivulets which had worn deep channels in the sand. Behind them the houses along the front grew tiny with distance. Far out in front of them they could discern the thin white edge of foam and beyond it the calm water of the open sea. The sky was high and blue and immense.
‘Watch out for shells,’ Fitz said over his shoulder.
She smiled to let him know that she remembered.
He took her hand. At the touch of his fingers on hers they both stopped. In a moment he had come close to her. His face, above hers, was dark against the sun; but hers was radiant and expectant, her mouth half open, her eyes closed. Alone in the centre of the sun-filled strand they kissed. Her own love frightened her. She said:
‘What is going to become of me if I keep on loving you like this?’
He held her to him, repeating her name. After a while she released herself gently and they walked on again, hand in hand, until the sand became dry and after that fine and shot through with silver specks which clothed their feet. They climbed among the hillocks of strong, sparse grass and sat down. Behind them the narrow breakwater reached out a further mile into the sea, dividing the river at their backs from the strand in front of them, keeping navigable depth for the shipping traffic of the Port of Dublin. The strand they had just crossed was sunlit and empty. They were quite alone.
‘Were you waiting a long time?’ Mary asked.
‘Not very long, but I was a bit afraid Miss Gilchrist had taken the day herself and left you stuck in the house.’
‘She wouldn’t look at the King. She’s a Fenian.’
‘All the Fenians are dead and gone.’
‘Not for her. She keeps a picture of one of them in her room. They used to call at her house when she was a child in Tipperary. She told me she once saw the watchfires lit on the hills and it was a signal for a rising against the British.’
‘I’d like to have seen them myself,’ Fitz admitted.
‘It does no good,’ Mary said.
She had brought some sandwiches with her, which she had filled with left-over meat. Fitz had a bottle with milk and also some oranges. They began to eat. The walk across the strand and the salt flavour of the air lent an edge to their appetites.
‘Ham,’ Fitz remarked appreciatively. He bit into the sandwich.
‘Pity it’s not tomorrow,’ Mary said. ‘They’ll have chicken tonight, for Father O’Connor and Mr. Yearling.’
As Fitz took another, a thought struck him.
‘If they ever want a butler, let me know.’
He broke a piece of bread and threw it lazily across the sand towards a gull which had been resting, its head tucked in tight against its shoulders. The gull was awake immediately. It stalked across and began to eat.
‘It’s beautiful here,’ Mary said.
‘As nice as Cahirdermot?’ Fitz asked.
‘Different. We had only mountains and fields. There was a river too, of course, but only the boys used to swim.’
They finished their meal and walked across to where firmer sand began beyond the tide-mark. At a pool left by the tide they knelt close together and peered among the rocks and seaweed. A dead crab, tangled in a frond of seaweed, swayed gently beneath the surface. It was a small, green crab, its upturned belly showing the V-shaped cut in its shell. Fitz pointed at this.
‘That’s where he keeps his money.’
Mary saw his face reflected in the pool, so close to her own that they might have been painted together on a medallion, against a background of blue sky and barely discernible wisps of white cloud. Fitz, she knew, was telling her something he had believed as a child. She had often wondered about his childhood, about his growing up in the noise and bustle of the city, about his work among trundling carts and swinging cranes and furnaces so huge that when he told her of them she thought of hell and its fire. How had he remained gentle and kind through all that? Perhaps it was because of the sea and the strand, the beautiful summer strands where even the poorest child could wander and hunt in the pools for crabs, hoping some day to find one that carried money in its purse. She rested her head against his shoulder, linking her arm through his.
‘You believed the funniest things when you were a child. You must have been happy.’
‘I’m happier now.’ Fitz pushed her hair back from her face.
They rose and began to walk again. Far away, near the Martello Tower at Sandymount, tiny figures on horseback moved to and fro. The young ladies from the riding schools of Tritonville Road were exercising on the sands. They went back again among the coarse grasses of the sandbanks. When they were seated a moment Fitz drew her down until they were lying side by side.
After what seemed a long time he said:
‘You love me?’
He had withdrawn a little to ask her and she could see his face. Its tenderness brought her near to tears. She nodded.
She paused a moment and then said:
‘I love you.’
‘And you’ll marry me?’
I’ll marry you.’
He drew something from his pocket and held it towards her. It was a ring.
‘I know you can’t wear it yet about the house, but I’d like you to take it and keep it with you.’
She put it on her finger.
‘It’s not a very dear one,’ he said humbly. Again the tears gathered because of the way she felt.
‘It’s beautiful,’ she said.
She wanted to give him something in exchange, a memento which would stand ever afterwards for the happiness of the day. She had nothing with her.
They delayed until the edge of the incoming tide was less than a hundred yards away. It approached slowly over the flat sands, rimmed by an edge of white foam. Here and there streamlets, like the scouts of an approaching army, crept forward in advance of the main body. It was time to go. They left the sandhills and climbed up on to the breakwater which was as wide as a road but unevenly surfaced, for the foundations had moved and the great granite blocks which comprised it had angled in places. Sand and fragments of shells, the remnants of winter storms and furious seas, filled the gaps where the granite had parted.
They stopped to watch a coal boat moving up river towards the bay. It glided full of peaceful purpose. The waves in its wake rolled towards them and broke at last against the stonework, a commotion about nothing. Screaming and swooping, the white gulls followed the ship.
‘How soon do you think we could manage?’ Fitz asked.
Mary wasn’t sure. They would have to save money. She told him she would not care to live in a house with others and of her hope that the Bradshaws would help them to get a cottage.
‘I have some money saved,’ she said.
Fitz had none. But his job was steady and, compared with most of the others, not badly paid. They talked until Mary, thinking once more of the time, said urgently:
‘Fitz, we must hurry.’
They began to walk again. In an hour they were back in the streets of the city and Fitz was waiting to see her on to the tram. She was pensive, thinking of the day they had spent together.
‘A penny for them,’ Fitz offered.
‘I’m feeling sad.’
‘Our lovely day—all gone.’
‘There’ll be others,’ Fitz said.
‘Will you think about it—I mean tonight when you’re working?’
‘Nearly all the time.’
‘Here’s my tram,’ she said. On and off she had been wishing for something to give him and now the solution occurred to her. She took Rashers’ ribbons from her coat and pushed them into his hand. He looked at them, puzzled.
‘To remember,’ she said.
She was afraid he might laugh, or that he might think she was mad. Or, because he was not in favour of the King, that he might be angry.
He took them gravely and said:
‘I’ll keep them, always.’
Her heart quickened. She was filled with happiness.
He helped her on to the tram, waved, and was gone. She sat once more on the outside, hearing the trolley’s conversational humming and feeling the wind against her cheeks and hair as the tram battled its sturdy way towards Kingstown.
When the night sergeant came in at fifteen minutes past eight he put his helmet on the desk and looked around the office without a word of greeting for the young policeman who had risen behind his desk. The sergeant was a burly man with a very red face. He breathed heavily and mopped his brow. The policeman said:
‘Good evening, Sergeant.’
The sergeant looked at the coat-rack and then at the fireplace which was littered with cigarette stubs and empty cartons.
‘Has Dunleavy gone?’
‘Sergeant Dunleavy left sharp at eight.’
‘I see,’ the night sergeant said.
He loosened the neck of his tunic and, turning his back on the policeman, stared out of the barred window.
‘You were up at the hospital?’ the policeman asked.
The sergeant sighed heavily. ‘Aye. And Dunleavy knew that.’
‘He said he was in a bit of a hurry this evening.’
‘He might have waited the few minutes. I did it for him often enough.’
The policeman did not want any part in the quarrels of his superiors. So he said:
‘How was the youngster?’
The sergeant turned away from the window and looked at him.
‘It’s what we suspected. Meningitis.’
The poor little scrap,’ the policeman said, seeing the red face was tight with pain.
‘They’ll send for me here if there’s a change.’
‘Please God it’ll be for the better.’
‘No,’ the sergeant said, ‘he’ll die. They always do.’
‘Is he the youngest?’
‘The second youngest.’
‘It’s a heavy cross for you, Sergeant,’ the policeman said.
‘It’s bad for a father, but worse again for the mother,’ said the sergeant.
‘It’s hard on the two of you.’
The sergeant went to his desk. He wrote Sergeant J. Muldoon on top of the duty sheet and then with an effort began to examine the papers in front of him. The policeman worked in silence. He could not think of anything to say.
‘What’s in?’ the sergeant asked him. He was finding it difficult to read the reports for himself. The policeman gave him particulars. Then he said:
‘We have a guest in cell No. 3.’
‘What’s he there for?’
The policeman told him about Rashers.
‘How long is he there?’
‘Since early afternoon.’
‘I’ll go and see him.’
Activity helped. The sergeant took the heavy key and went down a passage. The cell was in gloom. Rashers was stretched on the bed, asleep. The sergeant stood over him. Rashers’ heavy breathing reminded him of the child in the hospital, struggling for the life that minute by minute was being prised from his grasp. In an hour or two they would send for him to say that the end was near. He would stand and watch helplessly. There were no handcuffs to hold Death at bay. You could not lock Death up in a cell or let it off with a caution. It was the biggest thief of all.
The sergeant shook Rashers by the shoulder.
‘Wake up,’ he commanded.
Rashers stirred and sat up. He blinked at the strange sergeant.
‘A new one, be God,’ he said.
‘What’s this about refusing to give your name?’
‘I gave the only name I ever knew of,’ Rashers said. ‘Is it lies you want me to tell?’
‘What name was that?’
‘Who christened you Rashers?’
‘The first woman I remember.’
‘I don’t remember her.’
‘A little woman by the name of Molloy that lived in the basement of 3 Chandlers Court. I came to her at the age of four.’
‘They never found out. Maybe God left me under a dustbin lid.’
‘Where do you live now?’
‘In Chandlers Court. When Mrs. Molloy died she had to leave it. They carried her out. That was when I was fifteen or so. They’ll do the same with me when my time comes.’
Rashers reflected on what he had said.
‘They’ll do it with us all, for that matter,’ he added, ‘you and the sergeant before you, King Edward and Rashers Tierney. We’re all booked for the same trip.’
‘Don’t talk so much,’ the sergeant commanded.
‘It was always my failing,’ Rashers admitted.
‘Did you get anything to eat?’
‘Damn the scrap.’
The sergeant went out, locking the door. A little while later he returned with a mug of tea and roughly cut bread.
‘Take that,’ he said.
Rashers took it and began to eat. The sergeant sat on the bed too, in the warm gloom locked up, a prisoner within himself, his thoughts pacing around and around in his skull. For much of the time they were not thoughts at all, just the name of the child being repeated to him over and over again by some voice which he had no power to silence. The names of Jesus, Mary and Joseph also went through his mind and he prayed to these because he too, like Rashers, had been taught to look to them in trouble. He did not expect a miracle from them. The child was doomed to die. But he wanted comfort, he wanted to feel there was a Court of Appeal, that there was a world beyond this one, a world untouched by sorrow and disease and death, to which the child would go. His child must not cease to exist.
‘I’m going to let you out,’ he said when Rashers had finished.
‘Thanks be to God,’ Rashers said. ‘The oul dog at home will be demented.’
‘Have you money?’
‘Every penny was lifted off of me. Isn’t that what has me where I am?’
The sergeant took a shilling from his pocket and gave it to Rashers.
‘Take that,’ he said.
Rashers looked at it suspiciously. A charity from a police sergeant was one of the impossibilities of his world.
‘Go on, take it,’ the sergeant commanded. Rashers put it in his pocket.
‘Now get on home.’
Rashers collected his bag and his board with the few remaining favours. He found it hard to walk. The sweat had dried on his socks. His feet were numb. He took a set of colours from the board and offered them to the sergeant.
‘You’re a loyal servant who’ll appreciate them,’ he said.
‘I’ve no use for them. Say a prayer for me.’
‘I’ll say a rosary,’ Rashers promised warmly.
They went to the door of the station. The streets were bright still, but the sky had the evening look of waiting. At some invisible point night was mustering to invade it. Rashers pressed the colours into the sergeant’s hand.
‘Take them home for one of the kids,’ Rashers insisted generously.
He hobbled down the street. The sergeant clutched the colours tightly and stared at the street without seeing it. He went back into his office and let the colours fall into the fireplace, to take their place among the dust and cartons and the pile of cigarette stubs.
‘They returned by motor,’ Mr. Belton Yearling informed the company.
‘I was fortunate enough to see them. At a distance, of course,’ Father O’Connor volunteered.
‘Are they dining aboard the royal yacht?’ asked Mrs. Bradshaw.
‘Yes. With his Excellency the Lord Lieutenant and Lady Aberdeen.’ Mr. Yearling’s tone was tinged a little with disrespect. ‘Such a strenuous day for the Queen and the young princess.’
‘I hope we have finished with salutes, anyway,’ Mr. Bradshaw said grumpily. ‘I can’t abide them.’
Mrs. Bradshaw smiled at everybody. The meal had been excellent. Young Father O’Connor, though normally abstemious, had consented to a glass of port after it, in honour of the occasion, and when they retired for music Mr. Yearling’s first request had been for Sinding’s ‘Rustle of Spring’, a piece she was just a little bit afraid of, but which she had managed to play surprisingly well. She flushed with pleasure at their compliments, the more so because, in all modesty, she felt them at that moment to be well deserved. Mr. Yearling had responded on the ’cello with Mendelssohn’s ‘On Wings of Song’ and she accompanied with exquisite sympathy. He played beautifully so that even Mr. Bradshaw was moved at the end to say:
‘Dammit, Belton, you have wonderful warmth and tone tonight. You surpassed yourself.’
Mr. Yearling was refreshing himself with a glass of whiskey.
Although the evening was warm she had had a fire lit, not only as a courtesy to the company but because a room without a fire made her restless. She loved to see its light flickering on the walls and shining on the glasses and glowing deeply in the rich varnish of Mr. Yearling’s ’cello. Through the french windows she watched the last light lingering on the lawn, giving the grass a reddish tint and picking out the contrasting colours of the flowers. The laburnum at the end, in full flower, glowed deeply yellow, its base encircled by fallen blossoms. She had remarked that it had been a beautiful day for the royal pair and that had drawn the information from Mr. Yearling about the manner of their return.
‘Let’s hope they don’t go to Belfast,’ Mr. Yearling added, when he had finished his whiskey.
‘Why not, Belton?’ Mr. Bradshaw asked.
‘This fellow Larkin has the city in a state of revolution.’
‘Of course,’ Mr. Bradshaw admitted. He had questioned without thinking very deeply about what he was saying.
‘The military are camped in the main streets,’ Father O’Connor contributed.
‘They mean business too. They fired on the strikers the other day.’
‘There have been deaths,’ Father O’Connor reminded them. ‘It is so very regrettable.’
‘Hope he keeps away from Dublin,’ Mr. Bradshaw said.
‘He will, because he’ll be broken,’ Mr. Yearling assured him. ‘If our chaps don’t do it his own people will. Sexton has threatened to expel him.’
‘Who’s Sexton?’ Father O’Connor asked.
‘The general secretary of the union Larkin represents. Apparently Larkin called this strike without the sanction of the union executive. From his speeches he seems to be a law unto himself.’
‘It’s a pity it should be necessary,’ Father O’Connor said.
The company looked at him curiously. Father O’Connor flushed. He was quite young.
‘Don’t misunderstand me—I am totally against Mr. Larkin’s outrageous methods. He seems to me to be little better than a socialist. But I understand conditions are very, very bad in Belfast.’
Mr. Yearling surprised everybody by saying:
‘They are very bad in Dublin too.’
‘Nonsense,’ Mr. Bradshaw said, rudely.
‘Ralph,’ Mrs. Bradshaw reproved him.
‘Sorry. But you surprise me, Belton.’
‘Facts,’ Mr. Yearling insisted, sticking to his guns.
‘I think we should have a little music,’ Mrs. Bradshaw suggested. She smiled at Father O’Connor. ‘You haven’t done anything for us, Father.’
‘Of course,’ the others agreed.
Father O’Connor opened his music case and selected a piece which he handed to Mrs. Bradshaw. She went to the piano.
‘What is it, Father?’
‘“Ave Maria”,’ Mrs. Bradshaw answered, smoothing the sheets.
‘Schubert or Gounod?’
‘Actually,’ Father O’Connor said, a little apologetically, ‘it’s by Locatelli.’
Behind Father O’Connor’s back Mr. Yearling’s bushy eyebrows arched enquiringly at Mr. Bradshaw. Mr. Bradshaw shrugged his ignorance of the piece and Mr. Yearling acknowledged with a nod. Neither was enthusiastic. They felt the priest’s selection was in dubious taste. A social evening should be kept strictly secular. Besides, Mr. Yearling was a Protestant.
Father O’Connor sang pleasantly, if a little bit too sweetly. His voice had a touch of vibrato, poorly controlled. Still, he knew something about music generally: he could sight read quite well too.
‘Bravo,’ Mr. Bradshaw said when he had finished.
‘I’m not of your persuasion, Father, but I think the “Ave Maria” is a very beautiful prayer,’ Mr. Yearling contributed.
Everybody thought it uncommonly handsome of him, a further proof of his offhanded generosity and tolerance. Mr. Bradshaw pressed him to another liberal measure of whiskey. Father O’Connor declined a glass of port; Mr. Bradshaw helped himself instead.
“You’ve had the training, Father,’ he said.
‘In the seminary we were allowed to study music.’
‘One can hear it in the voice. It’s unmistakable.’
‘The training, yes,’ Father O’Connor said, ‘but not the equipment.’ He laughed. He was a genuinely modest man.
‘I know now what keeps you in Kingstown,’ Mrs. Bradshaw said, smiling affectionately at him. ‘You love training our church choir.’
‘Have you chaps a choice?’ Mr. Yearling asked. ‘I mean, about where you are going to be stationed?’
‘Oh no,’ Mr. Bradshaw explained, ‘a priest must go where he’s sent. It’s part of the rule of obedience.’
‘We can apply for special work,’ Father O’Connor added.
The friendly interest of the company focussed on him and he responded to it before he quite realised it.
‘As a matter of fact, I may be leaving Kingstown shortly.’
‘Oh no,’ Mrs. Bradshaw said.
‘I’ve asked to be transferred to a poor parish. I’d like to work among the poor.’
He discovered too late that he had embarrassed the company. He became embarrassed himself. He plunged on.
‘My mother had a great devotion to St. Vincent de Paul, you see, and she encouraged it in me too.’
‘Is that why you were christened . . . ?’
Mr. Yearling, not certain of the propriety of mentioning a priest’s Christian name, left his sentence unfinished.
‘Yes. I was called Vincent,’ Father O’Connor said.
‘We would be very sorry to lose you,’ Mrs. Bradshaw said.
‘Perhaps you won’t,’ Father O’Connor said, ‘perhaps I have not the ability.’
It was obvious that he was not anxious to say any more. He looked across at Mr. Bradshaw.
‘Isn’t it time our host obliged?’ he suggested generally.
Mr. Bradshaw rose and looked for suggestions to his wife. She said:
‘The policeman’s song from The Pirates.’
Mr. Yearling laughed and said:
‘Well, that’s topical enough anyway. I see Mr. Larkin has the police going on strike in Belfast too.’
Everybody enjoyed the joke except Mrs. Bradshaw, who did not follow the reference. Mr. Yearling explained to her that Larkin had spoken to the policemen who were keeping his strikers in order and had told them that they were not being paid enough for their heavy duties. He had roused them to such a pitch of resentment that the police were threatening to go on strike too.
‘That’s why the Chief Secretary asked for the help of the military,’ Mr. Bradshaw put in.
Mrs. Bradshaw said Larkin must be a remarkable strike leader. It all sounded fantastic.
‘Gilbertian,’ Mr. Yearling roared, in sudden inspiration. Everybody laughed aloud and as a result of his aptness Mr. Bradshaw’s rendering of ‘A Policeman’s Lot’ was punctuated all the time by smiles and laughter.
‘We really must be serious,’ Mrs. Bradshaw said when it was over.
‘Very well,’ said Father O’Connor, ‘why not something from The Yeomen of the Guard?’
‘Yes,’ Mr. Yearling said, ‘why shouldn’t we too introduce the military.’
But Father O’Connor, having acknowledged the quip, went on to deal seriously with the opera he had mentioned. He said he had always felt that The Yeomen of the Guard contained Sullivan’s best music. The rest agreed. Mr. Yearling praised Sullivan’s setting for ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’. Mr. Bradshaw drew attention to the musical excellence of ‘The Lost Chord’.
‘How long is it since he died?’ Mr. Yearling tried to remember.
‘Seven years,’ Mrs. Bradshaw said.
‘It doesn’t seem that long, really.’
‘Florence is right,’ Mr. Bradshaw said. ‘It was in 1900. I remember now.’
‘We can be proud that he was an Irishman,’ Father O’Connor said.
Mr. Bradshaw liked strict accuracy. ‘Well, the son of an Irishman—an Irish bandsman.’
When he died he was Sir Arthur Sullivan. Mrs. Bradshaw said she thought it wonderful that a humble youth should reach such heights.
‘He had the divine gift,’ Mr. Yearling pronounced solemnly. ‘The gift of music. What are we others, after all, but penpushers. Directors, property owners, public servants, nothing but glorified nonentities. One of us dies and the world is still the same. Sullivan dies—and the world is the poorer until God permits another genius to come and walk among us.’
This time he helped himself to the whiskey decanter uninvited and poured a large measure.
‘The song,’ Mr. Bradshaw said, uneasily.
Mr. Yearling suggested the introduction to the second act which contained a sombre opening for the ’cello, but little else that the company could manage satisfactorily, because of the disposition of the voices and the fact that it required a chorus too. Father O’Connor came out best, with a moving interpretation of ‘Is Life a Boon?’ Mr. Bradshaw remained silent but Mr. Yearling supplied an obbligato on the ’cello. Then Mrs. Bradshaw, knowing how much her husband enjoyed singing and not wishing him to feel neglected, closed the score and produced a volume of Moore’s melodies which contained duets which occupied everybody, the priest and Mr. Bradshaw on the voice parts, accompanied by piano and Mr. Yearling’s clever ’cello improvisations. Then she asked if it was time for soup. The men searched for their watches. As Father O’Connor produced his, Mr. Bradshaw thought he heard something fall.
‘Have you dropped something, Father?’
‘I don’t think so,’ Father O’Connor replied. They scanned the carpet mutually but could see nothing. Mrs. Bradshaw rang and Mary served them with soup. They sat around, informally conversing.
‘Your “Is Life a Boon?” revived some happy memories for me tonight, Father,’ Mr. Yearling said sadly. They looked at him with polite interest.
‘I was at one of the first performances of The Yeomen in the Savoy. George Grossmith sang Jack Point and Courtice Pounds was Fairfax. That was nearly twenty years ago.’
‘Is it so long?’ Mr. Bradshaw said.
‘It is, Ralph, October 1888. I was a young dog on my first visit to London. Wonderful. And a pretty girl with me too.’ He turned particularly to Father O’Connor. ‘All very correct and everything in order, Father, no wild oats or that sort of thing.’
‘Of course,’ Father O’Connor said quickly, but modulating his tone to convey a reminder of Mrs. Bradshaw’s presence.
‘Truth is, I was madly in love with her.’
‘But you didn’t marry her?’ Mrs. Bradshaw asked, allowing herself to betray a woman’s curiosity.
‘She wouldn’t have me, ma’am,’ Mr. Yearling confessed. He turned to Mr. Bradshaw. ‘You know, Ralph, we Irish chaps don’t stand much chance against the fellows over there. We think we have polish, poise, elegance, but in thirty minutes at the smallest social gathering the British fellow has us completely outclassed.’
‘Oh, I don’t know,’ Mr. Bradshaw protested.
‘It’s true, Ralph. And I’ll tell you why. Gentility, manners, social behaviour, they’re all part of a game, a sort of national game which is played to different rules in different countries. The British play their own game best because they’ve made the rules to suit the British temperament and the British climate.’
‘I don’t see the difference,’ Mr. Bradshaw said. He had taken up the decanter again and was handing Mr. Yearling his glass. Mr. Yearling raised it and looked around at everybody.
‘There’s part of the difference,’ he said sadly, indicating the golden spirit. ‘I won’t embarrass your good wife with the grisly details.’
Mrs. Bradshaw smiled her gentle smile as he threw back his head and swallowed. She knew his weakness and could guess that it had once, perhaps, been a wildness. She thought, a little wistfully, that a touch of human weakness in her husband would have been nice, her husband who was so good but at times so meticulous, at times so grumpy with rectitude. She rang for Mary to take the plates and said: ‘You may go to bed as soon as you have cleared away. Leave whatever is inessential until morning.’
The company rose and Mr. and Mrs. Bradshaw accompanied them into the garden. The night air was mild and perfumed with mown grass and flowers. A rocket sailed upwards in a bright parabola and burst brilliantly above their heads. They gasped with surprise. ‘What on earth . . .?’ Mr. Bradshaw exclaimed.
Mrs. Bradshaw remembered.
‘It’s the firework display at the Pavilion.’
‘Ah, of course,’ Mr. Yearling said.
She remembered the notice in the paper that morning which had advertised the attractions.
‘Grand Illumination of the Bldgs & Gardens by Brock. Grand Display of Fireworks. Portraits of Their Majesties. Bands, pipers, sword dancing. Torchlight procession in the gardens. Illuminations of The Fleet.’ Russel Rosse and company were playing Arabian Nights.
They looked up at the sky for some time. Now and then one or the other made an exclamation of admiration. The multicoloured fireworks traced elaborate patterns above the garden. Now and then one burst with a brilliant blooming and sent a joyful cascade of light pouring through the sky, lighting up the garden and picking out the upturned faces of the men: Father O’Connor, young, almost childish, frankly enjoying it; Mr. Yearling, with his great, bushy eyebrows, his long neck, his tall, spare figure and greying hair, smiling; her husband, thin, not quite as tall as Mr. Yearling, interested but unsmiling. There was something boyish about the three of them. Mrs. Bradshaw felt the moment keenly, felt the night about her, felt the soft dark air of the garden, felt the extra touch of excitement which had become part of the day itself. She sighed. The moment filled her with an oppressive sense of mortality. She wanted to leave the garden and get back into the house, to feel its four walls putting comfortable bounds to a world which was too wide and careless to hold intact for any certain period the happiness it now and then offered. She shivered and the others noticed.
‘We mustn’t detain you,’ Mr. Yearling said.
They took their leave and went out through the gate. Mr. Bradshaw put the heavy chain on the hall door and began his nightly task of winding each of the clocks.
The rockets made a playground of the sky for an hour on end, while Mary watched from her bedroom window, thinking of Fitz, speaking silent messages to him, living again the moments of their day together. As they burst and drew successive cheers from the watching crowds, Death kept its ordained appointment with the little boy in his strange hospital bed. The night sergeant suffered the news quietly. He had been expecting it since early evening. Rashers, exhausted by the day, sat on his straw bed in the dark and told the dog about him.
‘He was kind, Rusty,’ he said. ‘Imagine that. I met a kind sergeant today, the first kind policeman in history.’
The dog raised itself in response to Rashers’ voice, placed its paws on Rashers’ knees and, sniffing delicately, began to lick the dried blood on the side of his face.
On Thursday, the eleventh day of July 1907, King Edward honoured the races at Leopardstown with his royal presence and on Friday 12th he sailed away, leaving behind him a genteel glow of goodwill and friendliness, marred only by a piece of gossip which turned out eventually to be true. Mr. William Martin Murphy, Chairman of the Exhibition Committee, owner of Independent Newspapers, a large drapery business and a hotel, controlling director of the Dublin Tramway Company and several other large-scale ventures, had refused a knighthood at the opening of the exhibition. Yearling, who was in intimate contact with the business gossip of the city, being a director himself, told Father O’Connor about it when they met one day along the harbour front. Father O’Connor was reading his office. Yearling, looking spruce and smart in a grey suit with a flower in his buttonhole, tapped him on the shoulder.
‘And how are things spiritual, Father?’ he asked.
Father O’Connor closed his missal, marking the place carefully with a red silk tab. He matched Yearling’s light-hearted humour.
‘That is a difficult question to answer. If I say they are satisfactory I may be guilty of presumption, and if I say they are bad I am opening the door to Despair.’ He settled his missal under his armpit. ‘Perhaps my best answer is that we continue to trust in God.’
Yearling swung his cane and pointed out to sea.
‘Before you came along I was watching that small boat. The thought occurred to me that there was something which has changed little in two thousand years. The boat, the fishermen, their nets.’
Father O’Connor’s eyes followed the pointing stick. The boat moved gently with the motion of the water. Behind it a series of cork floats, spread in a wide semicircle, marked the line of the net. He had not noticed before.
‘The humblest of men,’ he said, ‘yet when He called to them, they followed.’
Yearling’s heavy eyebrows went upwards. He was in an impish mood.
‘Not quite, Father. He had to put on a little bit of magic for them. Didn’t He walk on the water?’
‘That was later,’ Father O’Connor corrected. Yearling’s scepticism did not disturb him. He was, after all, only a Protestant.
‘He did something,’ Yearling insisted. ‘Let me think now.’
‘After a night spent catching nothing, He filled their nets with fish.’
‘Ah,’ Yearling said. That was his point.
‘We must remember who they were. Poor fishermen, ignorant and illiterate. How else was He to win them to Him?’
‘Could He not simply inspire them with Faith?’
‘He wanted them to know their vocation. Remember what He said to them?’
‘What was that?’ Yearling asked, unable to remember.
‘Henceforth you shall be fishers of men.’
Yearling looked sceptical.
‘It’s too damned literary to be true,’ he objected. ‘I feel somebody made it up.’
Father O’Connor pursed his lips and then articulated carefully. ‘The substance of your complaint seems to be that Christ could be graphic and direct. But aren’t these the marks of leadership always?’
‘I don’t expect parlour tricks from God. And why fishermen?’ Yearling mused as they went. ‘Why not start at the top?’
‘Perhaps because it is easier to get the fisherman to leave his net,’ Father O’Connor said.
‘Yes. It takes more than a parlour trick to get a banker to leave his gold.’
‘Quite,’ Father O’Connor agreed.
‘The poor are generally regarded as being more religious than the rich,’ Yearling continued, ‘but of course that isn’t true. They are simply more impressionable and have less to lose.’
Father O’Connor considered for a moment and before speaking pitched his voice so that it would sound polite.
‘Your Church believes that worldly success is a measure of spiritual worthiness; you believe that material well-being and good fortune are marks of God’s favour and that ill fortune is a manifestation of His disapproval. Do you know the story of Dives and Lazarus?’
‘I do,’ Yearling said firmly, ‘and I regard it as the mad creation of some socialist fancy.’
Then he broke out into a loud peal of laughter which brought both of them to a standstill.
‘Forgive me, Father,’ he said contritely, ‘I am presuming too much on our friendship.’
Father O’Connor said: ‘It is better to explore an idea than to keep a polite silence.’
‘You are not offended?’
‘Who am I to be offended?’ Father O’Connor asked.
‘Well then, you must prove it by having coffee with me,’ Yearling insisted.
Father O’Connor accepted graciously. They strolled up the town together, Yearling with a happy spring in his step, his light cane swinging joyfully, his tall, tweed-clad figure with its gay buttonhole matching the sunshine of the morning. Father O’Connor, shorter and more sombre in his black clerical garb, acknowledged at intervals the salutes of his parishioners. Some were old women, some were carters and delivery men, some were little boys who touched their forelocks respectfully. To all he raised his hat and smiled.
‘I’ll concede this,’ Yearling commented, ‘you chaps keep the honour and respect of your flock.’
‘It ought to act as a reminder of our unworthiness,’ Father O’Connor said.
‘Nothing to be ashamed of,’ Yearling said, holding open the glass door of the coffee lounge for him. ‘Society is hierarchical. If they stop saluting you they’ll find something else to salute. And it might not be as worthy.’
They walked across luxurious carpet and joined Mr. Yearling’s colleagues. Father O’Connor recognised Mr. Harrison, a member of the Decorations Committee. The aromas of coffee and cigar smoke, blending pleasantly in the sun-filled room, made him feel urbane and important. He was a young curate in a rich parish, welcomed for his office and his pleasant manners by the important men of the town. He stirred his coffee with careful elegance. Yearling’s bubbling energy had not abated. He beamed over his cup at Harrison and said:
‘Congratulations on an excellent job of work.’
‘In what respect?’ Harrison asked.
‘The decorations. Magnificent. Didn’t you think so, Father?’
‘A credit,’ Father O’Connor said.
‘We all did our share,’ Harrison acknowledged, modestly.
‘Better show here than in Herbert Park. I suppose you heard . . .’
‘I know what you’re going to say: That Murphy refused to be knighted. It sounds incredible.’
‘It’s perfectly true. I had the whole story from an official source. The King called for his sword, but the Lord Lieutenant had to whisper that it was no dice.’
‘With everybody looking on?’
‘In front of a galaxy of gapers.’
‘What is Mr. Murphy?’ Father O’Connor asked.
‘One of our own—a Catholic,’ someone blundered.
‘No . . . I mean, politically speaking,’ Father O’Connor hastened to explain.
‘A Constitutional Nationalist,’ Yearling said. ‘The crown for Ireland and West African concessions for William Martin.’
Everybody laughed. Yearling continued:
‘But you must not think it was a question of politics, Father. It was rumoured beforehand that Murphy had organised the exhibition and asked for chairmanship simply to get a knighthood. It so happens that organisers of exhibitions elsewhere had been honoured in that way. When Murphy heard the rumour he told Aberdeen that on no account would he accept such an honour. It appears that the message was not transmitted in time to the King, with the result that William had to say no in public. What do you think of that, Father?’
‘I think Mr. Murphy demonstrated that he is a strong-minded man and a man of principle,’ Father O’Connor said.
‘After the event he sent a letter to His Excellency asking him to explain his refusal to the King. It was delivered at Leopardstown races. I happen to know that it contained this.’
They looked at him expectantly. Yearling, their attention securely held, changed his voice and articulated with great emphasis.
‘I would not wish that His Majesty should leave Ireland thinking that he had left one churlish man behind him.’
Harrison voiced the feelings of the rest.
‘That was well said.’
Yearling looked derisive, but the rest agreed with Harrison. Father O’Connor reflected on the incident and felt admiration for the man, as much for his show of moral courage as for his gracious expression of regret. He felt that with men of like character at the head of Ireland’s business affairs the country must surely prosper. It was an added satisfaction to have gathered that the man concerned was a Catholic as well.
Harrison, not to be outdone in the matter of inside information, put down his cup with a compelling clatter and said:
‘Of course you know what happened at the Viceregal Lodge. I mean about Vicars and the Crown Jewels?’
‘I’d forgotten Vicars would be there.’
‘When Vicars was presented the King shook him by the hand—most warmly, I believe—and held a cordial and cheerful conversation with him. So what price Birrell now?’
‘A handshake and a smile won’t deflect our friend Birrell,’ Yearling said. ‘By God no!’
The others raised their eyebrows, disapproving of his language in front of the priest. Father O’Connor smiled and waved his hands to convey that he was not put out by full-blooded talk. They went on to discuss the theft, a subject on which each had a theory. When Father O’Connor rose and excused himself they stood politely and bowed him out. Then they resumed more freely.
Father O’Connor went into the church to pray a little before lunch. There was a man in front of him whose ragged coat was tied about the middle with a piece of cord. He had a dirty beard and his remaining teeth stood up like cartridges in his hungry face. Father O’Connor’s mind wandered from his prayers. The face particularly held his attention. A scavenger’s bag swung from his waist. The man left almost immediately. Father O’Connor, alone now in front of the altar, reproached himself for the pride he had felt a little while before. He was not endowed with a talent for bringing Christ’s word to the men of business or for living according to Christ’s wish while among them. He was not clever enough, nor was he strong enough to endure the small temptations to worldliness and conceit without becoming their tool instead of being their master. And it was not only the respect of the prominent which would corrupt him. There was corruption in the submissiveness of the ladies’ committees, in the deference to his superior musical knowledge on the part of the humble organist and the choir, in the assumption of his genteel parishioners that to have good breeding, a clean person and unremitting politeness was to honour Christ as He had commanded.
Father O’Connor left the centre aisle and knelt before the shrine of St. Anthony to continue his novena for the recovery of his mother’s rosary. She had given him the beads when he was a young student, a Galway rosary of amber and silver which had belonged to her mother before her. They were the only memento he had of her, a cherished link with the love he had lost when she died. Perhaps, thought Father O’Connor, their loss was part of God’s plan to chasten him, a trial to take his mind from the vanities of the genteel world around him, so that this grief would be with him to draw his thoughts back to the verities. Their disappearance was mysterious enough. At first he had thought the beads must be in the Bradshaw’s house, because he had first missed them after their musical evening. But they searched thoroughly and found nothing. They were not in his rooms or in the vestry. Father O’Connor prayed fervently and humbly. It remained now with St. Anthony, in whom he placed his last hope.
He rose after a while and left the church, finding it a relief now to close the door of the Parish House and leave the sunshine to those whose moods were a better match for it. His room was high up in the house, a quiet, carpeted retreat with two devotional pictures from which the faces of Christ and the Madonna brooded over the well-bound volumes that lined each wall. A letter lay on the table which had not been there when he left. He picked it up and read it, then he put it down and sat for a long time in thought. The letter promised him the transfer he had asked for. He would be posted to work among the poor in the first months of the New Year. God, he was now certain, was truly intervening to shape his life for him. Father O’Connor, sitting alone in the quiet, sunless room, felt his eyes pricking with tears of gratitude, and his heart being filled to overflowing with love of Christ.
Father O’Connor’s parishioners marked the change. There was a quietness about him in the weeks that followed, an abstracted dedication which marked his attitude to even the most unrewarding and inconvenient of his parish duties. In private he practised small privations, which included doing without lunch on each Friday. His devotion during his daily mass had the effect of making it unduly long, so that his parish priest had to remind him that those attending it had worldly duties and must not be detained unduly. Only in his sermons did he seem to become aware of the living church arrayed dutifully beneath his pulpit. On the second Sunday in Advent his vehement condemnation of worldly show and snobbery set a number of critical tongues wagging. Mr. Bradshaw was greatly offended.
‘That man O’Connor gave another most extraordinary sermon today,’ he said. I wonder the parish priest doesn’t speak to him.’
‘Whatever for?’ Mrs. Bradshaw asked. ‘Wasn’t he speaking on the day’s gospel? I’m sure he didn’t say anything that wasn’t in it.’
‘It’s not that,’ Mr. Bradshaw said, ‘it’s the construction he puts on things. You’d think it was a crime to wear a coat without a hole in it.’
‘He was only reminding us of our duty,’ Mrs. Bradshaw said, ‘and I’m very glad too, because it’s bound to help our collection for the poor at Christmas.’
She finished the letter she was writing and sealed the envelope.
‘Thank goodness that’s done,’ she said.
‘Who is it for?’
‘Mary’s father. I undertook to tell him of her progress at least twice in the year. He is a strict and good man.’
‘You surprise me. I didn’t know he could read,’ Mr. Bradshaw said, returning to his paper.
Mary met Fitz and they looked at the Christmas displays in the shops. The evening was cold and overcast, the Liffey wrinkled at intervals as the sharp breeze drove down it from the mountains. Gaslight from the busy shops shed a mellow glow on damp pavements. At Westland Row the jarveys in worn caps loitered beside their cabs, waiting for incoming trains and their laden passengers. In the lamplight a white mist hovered above the bodies of their horses, harness clanked at each movement of the patient heads or the stamping of metal-shod feet. They stopped for a moment at a shop window. There were long red and yellow Christmas candles, which reminded Mary of her home, where in childhood they would stand in all the windows on Christmas night. There were iced cakes with sugar robin redbreasts on marzipan logs; there were boxes of candied peel and raisins and nutmeg packets and glasses filled with cloves. Turkeys and geese dangled from a gallows by the legs.
‘This time next year,’ Fitz said, ‘we’ll have Christmas together.’
‘It’s hard to believe,’ Mary said. She would put up paper chains and mottoes saying ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Adeste Fideles’ or ‘Christus Natus Est’ done on glossy paper with coloured letters.
They left the main thoroughfare and found themselves among tall tenements. Children were playing on the streets and on the steps. All the doors stood open. The smells from the hallways were heavy and unpleasant.
‘There he is,’ Mary said suddenly, pointing. A man with a beard was hobbling along on the opposite path. He had half a dozen balloons strung from his left hand.
‘Who?’ Fitz asked.
‘The man I saw being beaten by the policeman.’ She followed him with her eyes. Rashers had an unmistakable gait, a way of stooping his shoulders and pushing his neck forward so that his face and pendulant beard had an aggressive tilt. It took Fitz a little time to recollect what she was referring to. When he did he said:
‘They had little to do.’
They went through back streets to the cottage where Fitz lodged with Mr. and Mrs. Farrell, who were expecting Mary and had the table set for tea for both of them. Farrell was at the fire, smoking a pipe and spitting now and then into the flames.
‘That’s a nice way to receive anybody,’ Mrs. Farrell chided him.
‘How?’ he asked.
‘Sitting there in your stocking feet.’
‘The girl knows us all by now,’ Farrell said, amicably.
‘I do indeed,’ Mary agreed.
‘We’ll leave them to themselves just the same,’ Mrs. Farrell suggested to her husband.
‘Anything strange at the foundry?’ Farrell asked, ignoring her.
‘Not a thing,’ Fitz said. He sat down opposite Mary while Mrs. Farrell, having failed to move her husband, covered her defeat by picking up the pot and pouring tea for them.
‘I thought you might. I heard talk myself of a strike with the carters.’
‘They were working up to twelve.’
‘Ah—it didn’t come off so.’
‘It’s a bit near Christmas for anything like that,’ Fitz suggested.
‘Not when I tell you who’s in town.’
Fitz looked at him enquiringly.
Farrell spat into the fire before replying.
‘Larkin,’ Fitz repeated.
‘He had a meeting with the carters and with a crowd from the purifier sheds in the Gas Company. He had a word with us too.’ Farrell was a docker.
‘When was that?’
‘After the morning read.’
‘Did you speak to him yourself?’
‘I told him what had happened to me and about the stevedores paying us in pubs,’ Farrell said. ‘He says he’ll put a stop to it.’
After almost a year of constant work, Farrell, in a moment of stubbornness, had refused to put up a drink for the stevedore. He had not been jobbed by him since. It was hard on Mrs. Farrell, especially with Christmas so near.
You can talk to Fitz tonight,’ Mrs. Farrell hinted once again.
This time her husband grunted and heaved himself from his chair. ‘Right,’ he said.
The Farrells retired into their bedroom. It was an understood thing by now.
After tea they sat a little while by the fire, then it was time to leave. She rose and Fitz took her in his arms.
‘I hate having to go,’ she told him. He held her tightly. It was a rare happiness to be together in a warm room, in the intimacy of firelight and lamplight. He kissed her. They went out into the street once again. The air was moist. The raw wind smelled and tasted of fog.
Later it rolled in from the sea, creeping across sandbanks and fingering its way up the river, curling across the sea-wall and fanning out lazily about houses and streets. It trapped the light from each lamp-post in turn and held it inescapably in a luminous tent. The foghorns at regulated intervals intoned their melancholy warnings. Rashers, returned to his cellar, drank tea in the light of a candle and shivered because of the rising damp. Fitz on his way to the foundry blinked constantly to remove its cobweb breath from his eyes.
On her way to bed Mary brought a glass of warm milk to Miss Gilchrist, who had been told to go early to her room because she had not been feeling well. The old woman was sitting at the fire which Mary had been allowed to light for her earlier. She gestured to Mary to sit.
‘We have plenty of work before us tomorrow,’ Miss Gilchrist said. ‘There’s the drawing room to do and every stick of furniture to move for the sweeping.’
‘You won’t be able for it,’ Mary said.
I’ll be right in the morning. It’s only a little turn.’
But Mary felt she would not be right. She looked drawn and wan.
‘Drink your milk,’ she said gently.
‘I was thinking to myself that I’m the lucky woman,’ Miss Gilchrist said, ‘with my own little room and my own fire. There’s many a one this night that’s cold and hungry.’
Mary wondered that she could be contented. She had spent her life giving to others what she could have spent on a home and children and she would die without one to mourn for her. But she said nothing of that. The lonely old woman was on the brink of uselessness. What would happen when that time came? Who would care for her?
‘Be a wise girl and stick to service,’ Miss Gilchrist continued, ‘it’s a great safeguard against poverty.’
Mary said, shyly:
‘There are some would say to go for a house and a husband.’
‘And hardship,’ Miss Gilchrist said. ‘They say nothing about the hardship. That’s what house and husband mean for people of our rearing and family. Take an old woman’s advice and don’t be led astray by a fancy.’
Mary, thinking of Fitz, knew she would follow her fancy wherever it led. Whatever hardship might come it would be better than loneliness. It would be better to share cold and want than have food and fire in a house that must always be a stranger’s. She said nothing of that either. How could she?
‘When I was a child,’ said Miss Gilchrist, ‘I saw the famine. They ate the grass out of the ditches and the leaves off the trees and when I walked as a little girl down the length of a lane the corpses I saw had the green juice still on their lips. That’s what I remember as a child. That and the smell of the potato blight.’
‘I heard about it from my own people,’ Mary said.
‘And those that tried to raise the people out of poverty were hanged or sent off in chains to Australia.’
Mary looked at the drawing on the mantelpiece, Miss Gilchrist’s Fenian; the handsome young rebel who had sheltered in her father’s house when she was a young girl. Miss Gilchrist followed her eyes.
‘That was one of them,’ she said gently, ‘the flower of them all.’
It occurred to Mary that Miss Gilchrist may have loved him. Had she watched him slip out into the dark one night, watched the bonfires on the hills, heard of the miserable failure of yet another rebellion?
‘Stick to service,’ Miss Gilchrist repeated. ‘In this country the ones that don’t fight are not worth your attention and the ones that do bring nothing but heartbreak.’
‘You should go to bed now,’ Mary prompted. ‘The rest will do you all the good in the world.’
Miss Gilchrist handed her the glass and rose with difficulty. ‘That’s what I’ll do,’ Miss Gilchrist agreed.
Mary went to sleep with the sound of foghorns still vibrating at intervals through the room. It was past midnight. Outside the fog spread and deepened, curling around the well-kept houses of Kingstown, creeping along the deserted roads of Blackrock and Booterstown, stealing along the quays and the crowded slums of the city where rooms became damper and more evil-smelling and the great tide of destitute humanity settled down to the familiar joys and miseries of its lot; in the stink of terrible houses quarrelling, loving, sinning, sleeping, cohabiting, praying and dying. The fog rolled over all with ever-shifting movements, so that the city lay submerged and paralysed and the foghorns had it all to themselves. They sang all night to the great and the little, telling them life was vanity and Death the only certainty.
Mary had told Mrs. Bradshaw she had an aunt in the city for one reason only. There was no other way in which she could be free to visit Fitz. As a servant in training she was practically the property of the Bradshaws, dependent on their kindness for every occasional release from duty. She had no fixed day off and no agreed arrangement of work. To her parents, as to society, the condition was customary and therefore beyond questioning. She hated the deceit which, in the face of Mrs. Bradshaw’s gentleness and trust, made her feel unworthy. Yet what was she to do? She was one of a class without privilege and like most of the others she had found her own means to filch a little freedom from time to time. When it was discovered, as it had to be, she suffered in a way which puzzled and terrified her.
Mrs. Bradshaw suffered too. She felt that Mary had justified Mr. Bradshaw’s frequent criticisms of her indulgence.
‘This is what comes of sentiment when dealing with servants,’ he said. ‘How many times have I spoken to you about it?’
‘It’s a great disappointment,’ was all she could offer in defence.
The lie had been discovered through her innocent reference to the visits in her letter to Mary’s father. His reply that there was no relative in Dublin and his anxiety to know what exactly could be going on made Mrs. Bradshaw regret her mention of the matter. She was fond of Mary. She felt there could be nothing seriously wrong.
‘It was terribly wicked of you,’ she said, ‘your father is so upset. I’m quite certain he thinks we have been lax.’
‘I’m very sorry,’ Mary offered. There was nothing else she could say.
‘And what necessity was there for it?’ Mrs. Bradshaw asked. ‘I never refused you permission to go out.’
Mary remained silent. She could not have asked permission week after week to see Fitz. People refused to trust young servants with young men. It was a part of their thinking to expect the worst. So she would have had to tell lies anyhow. There was no way out. Mrs. Bradshaw, in the absence of a reply, asked the question which her world considered unavoidable in such situations.
‘Have you been meeting any people? . . . I mean people of the opposite sex?’
Mary flushed at the implication which, however delicately Mrs. Bradshaw strove to push it into the background, remained in the question itself. She determined on this occasion not to lie. It was better to be punished than to go on with the deceit.
‘I’ve been meeting a young man . . . the same young man,’ Mary said.
The next question framed itself automatically, but Mrs. Bradshaw decided against asking it. She saw that Mary was suffering. Pity was always stronger in Mrs. Bradshaw than anger or anxiety.
Mary, who understood the hesitation, said: ‘There’s been nothing wrong between us.’ She was glad that the lies had ended.
‘I believe you,’ Mrs. Bradshaw said.
But Mr. Bradshaw was not so easily satisfied. His mind was quite made up and his conversation on the matter was punctuated by frequent raising and lowering of his perpetual newspaper.
‘She must go,’ he insisted.
‘The poor girl has done nothing wrong.’
‘We have only her word for it.’
‘I believe her.’
The newspaper was lowered.
‘You also believed her about this ridiculous aunt.’
Mrs. Bradshaw had no reply. She changed her voice and her tactics.
‘It seems such a pity to dismiss her.’
‘I fail to see why.’
‘I was thinking of the girl herself. We can’t give her a clear reference and without that she’ll find it impossible to get another position.’
‘She should have thought of that before she picked up with some young blackguard.’
‘They don’t have very much freedom. I’m sure it was all quite innocent.’
‘Innocent,’ Mr. Bradshaw repeated, bringing his newspaper down on his knees with a loud noise. ‘You mustn’t think these young girls are like yourself. They breed like rabbits. My God, woman, do you want her having babies all over the place?’
Mrs. Bradshaw changed colour. He noticed. Mistaking the reason, he apologised.
‘Forgive me if I sound crude, but we must face facts.’
It was not the crudeness which had upset Mrs. Bradshaw. In a small, dry voice she said: ‘I really don’t think it would arise.’
‘While there are hundreds of strong, willing and reliable girls to choose from, am I to sit by and see you saddled with an impressionable trollop. We pay for trustworthiness, my dear. We must make sure that we get it.’
Mrs. Bradshaw said, quietly: ‘I liked her. She suited me.’
‘You are being sentimental again. It is a constant fault of yours.’
‘Perhaps I am,’ Mrs. Bradshaw admitted. ‘I don’t think it so wrong to want to forgive.’
‘Nonsense. She goes back to her parents. A servant is not like an ordinary employee. One has moral responsibilities in the case of a servant.’
But Mary’s departure was delayed by the illness of Miss Gilchrist. The old woman’s collapse was gradual. In the course of the Christmas cleaning Mary helped her to shift the heavy furniture and noted the toll it took of her strength. She refused to rest on the grounds that the work had to be done. One day when they had moved the sideboard near the piano they discovered Father O’Connor’s beads, an amber and silver rosary in a worn purse. Miss Gilchrist put them in her apron pocket, saying she would return them personally later. Father O’Connor had become a favourite of hers and she recognised his property at once. She regarded him as something of a saint and never missed going to him for her monthly confession.
Less than an hour later she collapsed. Mary shouted for Mrs. Bradshaw and together they managed to take her to her room. They got her to bed. Mary lit the lamp and drew the curtains, cutting out the gloom of the December evening. The pallor of Miss Gilchrist’s face and her heavy breathing frightened her. They stayed watching her for a while until Mrs. Bradshaw said: ‘I think it would be as well to go for the doctor.’
During the next few days Mary, in between frequent errands, found an opportunity to contact Fitz again. She asked him to be near the gate at midnight on the following Sunday. Sunday was an early night in the Bradshaw household. When the rest had retired she would somehow get out to see him.
She made it a habit to sit with Miss Gilchrist during the night until after midnight. The old woman recovered a little, but remained too weak to be allowed up. On Sunday evening Father O’Connor called to see her. She had asked Mary to summon him. Mary left everything ready for the priest and withdrew. He gave no sign of being aware of the pending dismissal. When Miss Gilchrist had confessed to him he removed his purple stole, kissed it and folded it. He looked round the room. Miss Gilchrist smiled.
‘Haven’t I the height of comfort, Father,’ she said.
‘You have indeed,’ Father O’Connor said. ‘You’re the lucky woman.’
‘That shows you that I’m highly thought of.’
‘Are you long here?’ Father O’Connor asked.
‘Over thirty years.’
‘Then why wouldn’t you be highly thought of?’ he bantered, not without difficulty. He found it difficult to be easy and natural with a servant.
‘It isn’t always so,’ she said. ‘There’s some would dump you in an attic without fire or comfort.’
‘And who would have the heartlessness to do that?’ Father O’Connor reproved.
‘Many’s the one. I seen it and I know. Or pack you off to the Union the minute you showed a sign of feebleness. And why not, I suppose, when a poor body is not of their blood.’
‘Mr. and Mrs. Bradshaw are good people,’ he said.
‘That’s what I’m saying, Father.’
‘And most people are good too, but gossip doesn’t give them credit.’ He felt it might be no harm to slip in a few words about the danger of uncharitable talk. But he got no chance.
The old woman said next: ‘Hand me across my apron, Father.’
He looked around, searching, and saw it draped on a chair. A tiny wave of irritation at being commanded by the old woman moved inside him but was suppressed. He handed it to her. She rooted for the pocket and gave him the purse.
‘I found them for you when we were cleaning,’ she said, with wonderful pleasure.
He opened the purse and let the beads fall into his hands. To have them again choked him with happiness.
‘My rosary,’ was all he could say, ‘how can I thank you . . . ?’
‘You can say a little prayer for me.’
‘They were my mother’s. I’d rather lose anything than these.’
Miss Gilchrist lay still, taking in his happiness, smiling in sympathy with it.
‘God bless you,’ he said. On an impulse he placed his hand lightly on her head and murmured his formal blessing. She closed her eyes and barely opened them when he bid her good night.
‘What do you make of her?’ Bradshaw asked.
He had made a point of meeting the priest in the hallway.
‘I think she should be all right,’ Father O’Connor said. Priests, he knew, had the reputation of being good judges, but as yet he had had very little experience of the sick-room.
‘Can you step in here a moment,’ Bradshaw invited. He held open the door of the drawing-room. They sat down.
‘The doctor,’ Bradshaw began, ‘thinks it may have been a little . . . stroke.’
They always said little, Father O’Connor thought, remembering the old woman’s closed eyes and tired face. It was a little weakness, a little turn, a little upset.
‘The trouble is,’ Bradshaw continued carefully, ‘that it seems to have affected one of the legs.’
‘In what way?’ the priest asked.
‘Paralysis—at least partial. Of course, it may pass.’
‘Please God it will.’
‘On the other hand it may not.’ Bradshaw fixed his gaze on the far corner. ‘What are we to do if she is no longer able to work?’
He waited for the priest to answer. Father O’Connor, drawn suddenly into the problem by the use of the word ‘we’, felt he should answer that the Christian thing would be to look after the old woman. But no matter how he tried to formulate the sentence it sounded incredibly impracticable. He decided to play for time and, if possible, to put forward his view obliquely.
‘She has been a very long time in service with you,’ he began.
‘She’s been paid for her trouble, every penny.’
‘Of course. It was not my intention . . .’
‘And been treated with every consideration.’
‘I have personal evidence of that,’ Father O’Connor said, in a conciliatory voice.
‘Indeed, if Mrs. Bradshaw has a shortcoming, it is her indulgent nature, as I have bitter cause to know.’
Father O’Connor, intimidated by Bradshaw’s commanding tone, nodded his head.
‘It’s not that I mind her growing old,’ Bradshaw continued, ‘provided she can potter around and get her work done. But what if she is incapable? We can’t employ a servant to dance attendance on a servant. The thing would be absurd.’
‘Has she no relatives?’
‘None at all.’
‘That makes it very difficult,’ Father O’Connor found himself saying.
‘And worrying, very worrying,’ Bradshaw added. He sighed deeply, thinking that he was never quite free from ill fortune; troubles trailed him everywhere like kittens after a cat.
‘God knows I’m fond of the old woman, she is quite devoted,’ Bradshaw continued. ‘If she remains as she is and we have to part with her it will be a terrible upset.’
Father O’Connor wanted to speak for her. The suggestion that she should be kept in the house no matter what the outcome of her illness came several times to the tip of his tongue. He could not say it. He told himself it would do no good. It would only make Bradshaw regard him as an incorrigible fool.
‘We can only pray,’ Father O’Connor said. ‘Prayer works wonders.’
The dilemma haunted him as he walked home. It seemed insoluble. If the old lady remained incapable, only Bradshaw’s generosity would stand between her and the workhouse; and Bradshaw, Father O’Connor knew, was incapable of charity in so large a measure. Indeed, Father O’Connor reminded himself, God did not demand it of his children. And yet, given certain circumstances, was not something required, in all justice, over and above the meticulous discharge of a contract? St. Thomas had somewhere discussed the matter. Father O’Connor tried but failed to remember specifically.
The streets were deserted, the bulk of the church looked black and forbidding, the wind was cold and burdened with rain. Father O’Connor went through the side gate and heard it groan as it shut behind him. What he could have said on the old woman’s behalf he did not know. He only knew that he had not said it. He walked along the narrow, tree-lined approach, his shoulders hunched, feeling like Judas.
‘What time is it?’ Miss Gilchrist asked.
‘You should get to your bed.’
‘Presently,’ Mary said, ‘when you’ve had your milk and settled down for the night.’
The wind was making a great noise outside, bullying the trees and driving the rain against the windows. Sometimes the lamp dimmed and then brightened again, sometimes a gust beat down on the fire and sent a puff of smoke into the room. Mary watched the saucepan of milk, which for convenience she was heating at the bedroom fire. Miss Gilchrist returned to her chosen topic, Father O’Connor’s visit.
‘Did he say anything to you?’
‘About your trouble.’
That was the phrase she had found for Mary’s loss of favour.
‘Not a word. Perhaps he didn’t know.’
‘Nonsense,’ Miss Gilchrist said, ‘of course he knew.’ She lay staring at the ceiling, a whitewashed one on which the beaded lampshade cast restless patterns. They were faces, flowers, animal shapes.
‘He’s kind. If you’d mentioned it to him he would have put in a word with the boss about you.’
‘I don’t want him to.’
‘But what will you do?’
Mary did not know as yet. First she must see Fitz. The milk bubbled around the edges and she took it away from the fire. Fixing Miss Gilchrist’s pillows, Mary sat down at the bedside and they both drank. The room was cosy, yet in some subtle way it had changed. It was no longer a place in which she was accepted and approved. The furniture, the sick-room utensils, Miss Gilchrist’s rebel, were no longer part of her life. They surrounded her like enemies. She had a home no longer. Even outside the house everything had changed. At mass on Sundays she saw people she knew and thought they looked strangely at her. It made her hate them and brought her several times to the verge of tears.
‘What can I do?’ she said at length. Except get away. That meant home. She would feel unwanted at home too. And neighbours would gossip in the small townland.
‘Father O’Connor is the man to go to,’ Miss Gilchrist said again, just before Mary settled the clothes about her and she began to fall asleep. ‘He won’t let you down.’
Mary turned down the lamp. The clock said midnight. She took the glasses and left on tiptoe, pausing for a moment on the stairs to assure herself that the house was sleeping. It was hard to unbolt the kitchen door without making a noise, but she succeeded at last. She closed it behind her, hoping the latch, which often slipped, would hold against the wind. The cold sting of the rain made her catch her breath as she hurried down the length of the garden. She opened the garden gate and stared into the darkness. Coming from the lighted house made it impossible to see anything. She started with fright when Fitz stood suddenly close to her.
‘Mary,’ he said.
She turned to him and he folded her tightly in his arms. After a moment she said: ‘Not here. Come inside.’
They went up the garden together until they found cover under a tree. It was no longer much protection against the driving rain, but it held off the wind a little and hid them from the roadway. Fitz took her in his arms again and she said: ‘My darling, I kept you waiting, and you’re soaked.’
‘It doesn’t matter,’ Fitz said.
She kissed him in sudden abandon, his lips, his cheeks, his forehead, finding them cold and soaked with rain. Then she began to cry.
‘Tell me what has happened.’
She told him. For the first time in many days she found love offered to her in place of hostility. Under a dark tree, in the wind and the rain of a December midnight, there was the feeling of home. She had been exiled from that for longer than she could bear. She clutched him desperately and said: ‘What am I to do?’
He held her for a moment in silence. Then in a voice which was unexpectedly calm and firm he said: ‘You mustn’t go home.’
‘Because if you do they’ll keep you there. We might never see one another again.’
‘Where else can I go?’
‘You can stay with the Farrells and I can find some other place for a while.’
‘Will they agree?’
‘Of course they’ll agree.’
She had never had a problem of any importance to put to him before. His assurance was a new quality at which to marvel.
‘You can stay there until we can arrange to be married.’
‘I’ll do it,’ she said, ‘but how?’
‘Give me just a little time to arrange it,’ he said, ‘I’ll leave word for you and when I do all you’ll have to do is walk out as you did tonight.’
‘What about my father?’
‘You can write to him to tell him you’re safe. We’ll be married before they can do anything about it.’
She said: ‘It all seems simple now when you are with me. But when you’re not here I’m going to be afraid.’
‘Don’t you want to come with me?’
‘How can you ask?’
‘Then there’s nothing to be afraid of. From the moment you leave here I’ll be with you.’
The leaves above them shook furiously and the dislodged drops soaked both of them. Mary shivered and said: ‘I must go. They might miss me.’
‘I’ll send word,’ he said.
‘Tell me you love me.’
‘I love you.’
‘Think of me later and say it too.’
‘I’ll say it all the way home,’ he answered.
He waited until she had gone into the house and the candlelight showed in her window. Then he went off. She thought of him battling his way back to the city, his head down against the rain. His confidence had reassured her. The future no longer filled her with dread and uncertainty.
In the first days of the New Year Mary left the Bradshaws’ home for ever. She met Fitz once again in the garden and closed the gate quietly, this time from the outside. She had a small case of belongings and sixteen pounds, the fortune she had managed to save. They walked all the way to the city, a journey which took over two hours. When they reached the Farrells’ house Mrs. Farrell was waiting with tea for them. She asked no questions.
The next day Fitz moved to a room elsewhere and Mary wrote two letters. The one to her father assured him that she was safe and that he must not worry about her. The one to Mrs. Bradshaw found the house in chaos for want of servants, a troublesome situation which continued for a couple of weeks, when suitable new recruits were eventually found. Miss Gilchrist’s partial paralysis remained, until in the end Mr. Bradshaw made up his mind. Her removal to the workhouse upset Mrs. Bradshaw for several months.
Winter was always the worst time in that city. In autumn the trees along suburban roads were venerable but elegant; in winter they were gnarled and ragged ancients, with rheumatic knuckles and bones. The large houses became draughty and hard to heat; the young children on their way to Miss Tieler’s ballet and dancing class in Molesworth Hall wore gaiters over thick stockings and top-coats over jerseys and shawls, so that when they alighted from trams and cabs they were recognisable because of their enormous size. In the mornings just at the breakfast hour the poor searched diligently in the ashbins of the well-to-do for half-burnt cinders and carried sacks and cans so that as much as possible of the fuel might be salvaged. The ashbin children were pinched and wiry and usually barefooted. They lived on the cast-offs. They came each morning from the crowded rooms in the cast-off houses of the Rich; elegant Georgian buildings which had grown old and had been discarded. The clothes they wore had been cast off by their parents, who had bought them as cast-offs in the second-hand shops in Little Mary Street or Winetavern Street. If the well-to-do had stopped casting off for even a little while the children would have gone homeless and fireless and naked. But nobody really thought about that. These things Were.
It was a bad time for the carters, rising by candlelight, shivering on their way to work before six o’clock, wondering would there be ice on the streets to keep the horses in the stables. And for the building trade, where every other day the weather became ugly and there was broken time. The dockers hated winter. They huddled in groups on the quayside and waited through interminable mornings for ships that had been delayed.
It was a bad time all round. The east wind beat in from the sea and drove under the arches of the river, so that when the gulls rose with a cry from the water it hurled them backwards in a high, swift curve. The Farrells’ house, where Mary continued to stay, quivered often at night because of the great beating of the sea. She had grown used to its sound while with the Bradshaws, but here it was nearer and more violent. Frequently, when she walked along the front in the mornings, she found the beach strewn with driftwood and debris. After a while she began to join others in collecting what could be used for fuel. At times, when she sat listening to the sea and the wind, her thoughts turned to the house in Kingstown and she wondered if Mrs. Bradshaw still complained of the draughts from the folding doors.
On one of the bleakest nights the great coal-stack in the foundry went on fire. Fitz, who was on duty, was called out a little after midnight by Carrington the foreman. At first there were no flames and the smoke could not be seen in the pitch darkness. But both recognised the smell, a particular odour which left a thick taste on the tongue. They traced it to the lower yard, after much uncertain groping and guessing. The smoke was heavy in the yard and hit them so suddenly that they both swallowed it and coughed. From the darkness beside Fitz, Carrington’s voice said: ‘It’s the coal-stack.’
It had happened before. Carrington, wondering if he should put the emergency routine into operation, hesitated.
‘I wonder how bad it is?’
‘We won’t know until we disturb it,’ Fitz said, ‘and when we do that it may be too late.’
‘I’ll see about getting the brigade,’ Carrington decided. ‘Take out enough of the furnace crew to rig up the lighting set and see about mustering extra help.’
A little later the city, huddled behind drenched housefronts, stirred to hear the clangour of bells in the empty streets. As the first engine swung into the yard the men were already moving the lighting set into position. A cloud of smoke, bent at an angle by the wind, showed up blackly.
‘Why the hell wouldn’t it happen in summer,’ one of the men said.
They had shovels ready and were crouching in the meagre shelter of the lamp supports. Sleet slanted intermittently, a curtain between the darkness and the lamps. The brigade men were in position with hoses ready.
The foreman had some words with the chief before he ordered the labourers forward. They dug gingerly, testing for the source of the fire and leaving small mounds of coal about the main stack. After a while one of the men, digging deeper than the rest, sprang aside and called out. A small tongue of flame licked upwards. Carrington said to Fitz:
‘You’d better call out help. We’ll need carters and more men to dig.’
Fitz found the list in the time office, where the timekeeper, half asleep over the fire, jumped up in alarm at his entrance.
‘Blast you anyway,’ he said. ‘I thought for a minute you were Carrington.’
‘I’ve come for the emergency list,’ Fitz said, ‘the main coal-stack is on fire.’
The timekeeper produced it from a drawer.
‘We use the carters from Doggett & Co.,’ he said. ‘Barney Mulhall is the man to see first.’
‘Have you his address?’
‘Chandlers Court,’ the timekeeper said, his eyes searching down the list. ‘Here you are—number three.’
Fitz took his bicycle and headed out into the streets. He was the only traveller. The city was dead and dark and windswept. In addition to the carters there would be labourers needed. He decided to call on Pat Bannister, with whom he had been sharing a room since Mary had gone to the Farrells. Pat was out of work because for the moment the storage yard of Nolan & Keyes was packed to capacity. He decided to call on Farrell too: he was still being ignored by the stevedores. There was at least a night’s work in it for each of them. The double line of tram-tracks gleamed wetly as he turned across them into Chandlers Court and found number three with difficulty. The hall door was closed over, but there was no lock and he pushed it in with his shoulder. A dog barked from the basement as he entered the hall. He climbed two flights. It was impossible not to make a noise on the bare boards and to stumble now and then on the uneven stairs. The walls in the dim light of the oil lamp he had taken from his bicycle were greasy and peeling. The smell of communal living lay heavily and unpleasantly on the landing. He knocked at the door of the two pair back and noticed that the paint was cracking and blistered as though there had been a fire.
After a while there were movements and a deep voice asked: ‘Who is it?’
‘Emergency call,’ Fitz answered, ‘Morgan’s Foundry.’
‘Hold your horses,’ the voice acknowledged.
Fitz waited patiently. Somewhere above a baby had begun to cry. It was remote yet it transformed everything. There was more here than darkness, than decay, than evil smells. Behind each of these peeling doors, from the ground to the top, there was a home. A man who was naked except for a pair of trousers which he held in position with one hand, opened the door and said: ‘Step in.’
‘Do as you’re told,’ the man insisted. He was obviously used to laying down the law. Fitz noticed his bulk and height. But there was a pleasant note in his voice. He was not a bully.
Mulhall made way for him and he entered the room. The atmosphere was close, but snugly so. The only illumination was the red glow of a lamp which stood on the mantelpiece before a statue of the Sacred Heart. A yellow circle of light wavered on the ceiling above it. As Mulhall pulled on his shirt there were movements in the far corner. A match gleamed and a gas ring threw a blue light. Mulhall, having pulled his braces over his huge shoulders, lit a candle and said:
‘What the hell are you at now?’
‘Keep your voice quiet,’ the woman whispered. She was elderly. Fitz knew by the voice and by her stooping movements in the combined light of candle and gas ring.
‘That’s herself,’ Mulhall said to Fitz, pulling on his socks.
The woman said: ‘You’ll waken the child.’
Mulhall chuckled deeply and said to Fitz: ‘The child is in the bed beyond there. He’s fifteen and nearly as big as I am.’
Fitz guessed at, rather than saw, a single bed in the far corner.
‘What’s your name?’ Mulhall asked.
‘Fitzpatrick,’ Fitz said.
There were sounds near the gas ring; the thump of a kettle, the rattle of cups.
‘She’s making tea,’ Mulhall confided. He was having trouble with one of his boots.
‘It won’t take a minute,’ the woman said, ‘and you’ll be glad you had it when you face the street outside,’ Then she said: ‘You might ask the young man to take the weight off his legs.’
Fitz could see them better now. Mulhall had thick grey hair above a heavy forehead. The woman, a coat thrown about her shoulders, had once been tall. Her movements were gentle. In the candlelight her shadow bobbed from wall to wall as she put cups on the table and cut bread.
‘Sit over,’ she said.
‘Dear God,’ Mulhall protested, ‘a bloody coal-stack on fire—and she makes tea.’
‘Take it in your hand and swallow it.’ She listened to the wind for a moment and added: ‘It’s a terrible night.’
The second bed was in the angle between a small window and the far wall. Fitz could see it better now. There were movements from it and a boy sat up, blinking. He had a handsome face with dark hair tumbled about the forehead.
‘What’s wrong?’ he asked.
‘Emergency call,’ Mulhall answered.
‘I knew you’d wake him,’ the woman said. She turned to Fitz and explained: ‘The child is in the parcels department in the Tramway. He has a six o’clock start.’
The tea was sweet and hot—too hot. Mulhall emptied his into a saucer and drank it that way.
‘Do you need extra help?’
‘We could do with some,’ Fitz said.
‘Glory be to God,’ his wife said, ‘you’re surely not thinking of the child?’
Mulhall said to her, ‘Will you let me talk, woman.’ He glared at her for a moment over his shoulder. Then he spoke to Fitz.
‘There’s a poor divil upstairs with a wife and a couple of children. He could do with a night’s work.’
‘Is it Mr. Hennessy?’ his wife asked. Again Fitz noted that she was a quiet-spoken woman.
‘The Toucher Hennessy,’ Mulhall confirmed.
‘Then they’ve four children,’ his wife corrected.
‘Holy God,’ Mulhall said, ‘that woman is like a rabbit.’
‘I’ll go up and get him,’ Fitz agreed.
They left down their cups and while Mulhall set off to alert the carters Fitz climbed the remaining stairs. He was now in the attic, on a narrow landing where the ceiling was so low that he stooped. The baby was crying again when he knocked. A woman’s voice responded.
‘Who is it?’
‘We have a night’s work in the foundry, if Mr. Hennessy will take it,’ Fitz shouted.
There was a long interval. He heard whispering inside. Then the woman shouted: ‘He wants to know what kind of work it is.’
Fitz explained and there was another interlude. Then the door opened and a small skinny man looked up into his face.
‘I hope you’ll pardon the preliminary enquiry,’ he said with great politeness, ‘but what class of work is involved?’
‘Digging coal,’ Fitz said.
‘Aw God, wouldn’t that vex you now. I’ve no shovel.’ Fitz thought there was a note of relief in the voice.
‘They’ll give you a shovel,’ the woman shouted, ‘won’t youse, mister?’
‘That’s right,’ Fitz said, ‘we can supply a shovel.’
The man considered this. Then he asked cautiously:
‘Is there any climbing?’
‘What has that to do with it?’ Fitz asked.
‘I’ve no head for heights,’ Hennessy said.
‘Don’t listen to a bloody word he says, mister,’ the woman screamed, ‘he’s only acting the old soldier.’
‘There’s no climbing,’ Fitz said.
With obvious lack of enthusiasm for the prospect of facing the raw and laborious night, Hennessy turned up the collar of his coat and cast a despairing glance back at the room.
‘All right—I’ll go,’ he said.
He followed Fitz on to the street and set off in the direction of the foundry. His figure was huddled against the cold, his pace reluctant. Fitz went to his own place to rouse Pat Bannister and then to Farrell’s. He waited in the kitchen while Farrell dressed, all the time conscious that behind the door to the left of the fireplace Mary lay sleeping. He was torn between his desire to speak to her and his reluctance to disturb her. Before he could make up his mind Farrell had joined him and they went down to the foundry together.
As they walked Farrell said: ‘I won’t forget it to you for coming down for me.’
‘Who else would I call on?’ Fitz said, easily.
But he was shocked at the change in Farrell. He had not seen much of him since moving out to make room for Mary. Most of the time Farrell had been out searching for work. Or, if he was in, he had remained in his own room. He was not simply out of work. He was a marked man, barred by one stevedore after another, a man who had tried on his own to break a highly organised system of petty extortion.
‘You haven’t had any luck?’ Fitz asked.
‘Nor won’t,’ Farrell said.
‘What about Larkin?’
‘There’s been no word.’
‘Maybe there will be, soon.’
‘What can Larkin do, when the rest didn’t stand by me?’
Very little, Fitz thought. The shipowners gave each unloading job to the stevedore on contract. Who the stevedores employed after that, or how they paid them, was not the shipowners’ concern. The custom of paying the dockers in public houses had been accepted for years. It seemed impossible to Fitz that the lonely, elderly man walking beside him could alter it. There were too many who were jobless and willing to take his place. Farrell was beginning to look at it that way too. It had been painful to see his eyes light up at the prospect of a casual night’s work.
Farrell walked in silence for a while. Then he said, more hopefully:
‘What’s the foreman at the foundry like?’
‘Carrington is his name. He’s as hard as nails, but he has no favourites. All he cares for is a good worker.’
‘Does he job casuals often?’
‘Two or three times a week, usually for a day at a stretch.’
‘I’ll go out of my way to bring myself to his notice tonight,’ Farrell said. ‘I’m finished as a docker, anyway.’
They worked without rest through a night of continuing sleet and wind; the labourers digging and hauling, the carters loading, dumping, re-loading. Steam rose in dense clouds beneath the water from the hoses and fanned about the yard so that the sleet itself tasted of cinder and ash and the clothes of the labouring men smelled strongly and sourly. At last it became so dense that the men digging on the leeward side could work no longer. It had become impossible to breathe as the wind bent it downwards in an impenetrable fog.
Carrington, who was directing the carters, left off and came over to Fitz. It was a habit of his. Fitz was his unofficial deputy.
‘What now?’ he asked.
Fitz had been thinking about it. They had tried taking the hoses off for intervals and digging when the steam cleared. But when the hoses stopped the strong wind fanned the fire into life again.
‘We could try screening the fire and see if we can dig it out.’
There were large screens in No. 2 house, which were used in summer to cut off the heavy draught when both ends of the house had to be left open because of the heat.
Carrington felt it was worth trying.
Fitz gathered some labourers and half a dozen carters, one of whom was Mulhall. He set the furnace hands disassembling the screens so that the carts could carry them to the yard. While they were working Mulhall said to him:
‘Are you deputy gaffer here?’
‘No. Just senior hand.’
‘National Union of Dockers,’ Fitz said.
‘Same as us. Is the whole job union?’
‘Half and half.’
‘Ever met Larkin?’
‘No,’ Fitz said.
‘He fixed an overtime rate some time ago—ninepence an hour. It’s in the carters’ agreement.’
‘I wouldn’t know about that,’ Fitz said. He was a furnace hand. The carters had their own set conditions. Lately, one section or another of the carters was always in trouble.
‘Maybe you’d ask the head bottle-washer,’ Mulhall said, then backed up and drove off. They got the screens into position and after a while they shut off the hoses. The wind no longer had direct access to the fire, but it bundled over the top and caught the coal at its higher level. The steam too, was clear of the ground and the men could work in the lee of the stack. They loaded the carts without respite. Meanwhile other workmen had begun to dig towards the ignited coal. Fitz saw Farrell among them, working steadily and easily, the relaxed technique of the docker showing in every movement of his body. He was one of the small number selected by Carrington for a special and difficult operation. Fitz was glad. It would give Farrell hope—and for the moment hope had become his desperate need. Pat Bannister was among them too, working steadily, absorbed as he always was, in the job that confronted him. Further away, in among the general collection, Hennessy stood idle, with a long-handled trimmer’s shovel which was almost as tall as himself.
‘Don’t kill yourself,’ Fitz said as he passed him.
‘I’m a delicate framed man,’ Hennessy said, ‘and I’m crucified with rheumatism of the back.’
‘You’d better look as though you were working,’ Fitz advised him. ‘If Carrington puts his eye on you he’ll give you your papers.’
Hennessy sighed and dug his shovel into the coal.
The night passed slowly. As they grew exhausted it took on a dreamlike quality; the figures of men bent under the lamps; the sleet thickened and slackened, died and found new reserves; the scrape of shovels and the creaking of carts filled the darkness incessantly. For a while Fitz found himself beside Carrington and remembered Mulhall’s enquiry.
‘The carters want to know what’s the freight?’
Carrington thought and then said:
‘Sixpence an hour, I suppose.’
‘They seem to expect overtime rate.’
‘My bloody eye,’ Carrington said.
His tone angered Fitz, but it did not seem to be the moment for argument. In the upper end of the yard a new coal-stack was rising as the men moved more and more coal.
‘Better keep them hosing as they build the new stack,’ Carrington said, ‘otherwise we may have another bloody fire on our hands.’
‘We’ll need the reserve water supply,’ Fitz said.
‘That’s all right. Go ahead and turn it on.’
‘Who’ll look after the hosing?’
‘There’s a couple of likely looking casuals. I’ll get one of them to take charge.’
Carrington’s eyes searched among the working figures. He walked over towards the group near him and singled out Farrell.
‘You,’ he said, ‘what have you worked at?’
‘Docker,’ Farrell said.
‘Out of work?’
‘This past few months.’
Carrington hesitated. Then he said, dismissing Farrell, ‘All right, carry on.’
When Farrell had gone Carrington turned to Fitz.
‘I know who he is now. I couldn’t use him.’
‘Dangerous. That’s the fellow who tried to start some trouble with the stevedores.’
Carrington shouted again. ‘Hey, you,’ and another man approached.
‘I’ll turn on the reserve water cock,’ Fitz said.
Fitz climbed into the top gallery of No. 4 house where in a wing overlooking the river the reserve pump was located. The bare metal was painfully cold to touch and the wind, bullying fiercely through the glassless apertures, had almost scoured the floor clear of coal-dust. Fitz threw his weight against the release wheel. It was an unreliable piece of mechanism at the best of times.
He had carried the image of Farrell with him and the words of Carrington remained in his head as he waited. Farrell’s moment of rebellion was known now along the length of the dockside. They were going to hound him, even people like Carrington, who had no conscious determination to do so. It was a comfortless city.
Below the catwalks and weblike ladders the men still on duty sweated over the furnaces. Here there was a forsaken, steel-cold emptiness, a half-lit gloom. To his right the river was grey and wrinkled under the wind, the waiting ships as yet not clearly discernible. Fitz noted with surprise that it was almost dawn. He imagined he could smell it: a distinctive odour of metal and river and many cargoes, the cold and hungry smell of the dockside. A ship hooted, getting up steam. That meant an early tide. The sound hit the iron roof above him, then drifted off across streets and alleyways, startling the sleepy gulls and foraging cats. It had barely died away when the pipes near Fitz lurched suddenly and began to dance. The pump was working. He took his time negotiating the ladders. They were narrow and dangerous for someone who had been eighteen hours on duty.
When Fitz reported to Carrington again it was morning. The lighting set had been dismantled, the men looked haggard and hungry. Looking at them as they worked, Fitz was filled suddenly with pity. The wind and the cold had been an unremitting hardship, the steam and ash had attacked their eyes and added their own brand of torture. Yet except for Mulhall’s enquiry they continued to work without questioning what they were to get at the end of it. For most of them anyway, anything earned would be regarded as a godsend.
‘How about payment?’ he asked Carrington.
‘I’ll leave the list with the pay clerk before I go home. Tell them to call back about four o’dock.’
‘What am I to tell them about the overtime rate?’
‘Up in Nellie’s room,’ Carrington said.
‘There’ll be trouble.’
‘The casuals don’t matter—they’ll take what they’re given. The carters are more dangerous. But they have no case. They’re only entitled to overtime if they’ve worked for us during the day. These didn’t. They were working for Doggett & Co.’
‘I hope they understand that piece of reasoning,’ Fitz said.
‘There’s nothing they can do about it, anyway,’ Carrington said. ‘They’re not employed normally by us, so they can’t very well go on strike.’
Fitz went home with Pat Bannister. They made tea, washed and lay down to sleep. Meanwhile the rest of the city got into the swing of yet another day.
‘You wished to see me?’ Father O’Connor said.
His new parish priest, Father Giffley, looked around and said testily: ‘Please don’t stand with the door knob clasped in your fist—it’s a habit I detest.’
He saw Father O’Connor’s flush of embarrassment and added: ‘It lets the raw air into the room. Come in and sit down.’
He was seated in a leather armchair with a high back, his feet stretched out to the fire. On a table, which for comfort he had drawn over to the fireplace, the remains of his breakfast lay scattered: the peeled skin of an orange, a porridge bowl with its milky residue; a plate with egg stains and the stringy rinds of bacon.
Father O’Connor sat down facing him. Through a high window opposite he could see the walled yard at the back of the church and a section of railway line. The Church of St. Brigid lay near the railway and the canal. It was an unattractive view which the overcast sky and the spattering sleet did nothing to improve. The glass wore a thick grime, the inescapable grime of the neighbourhood.
‘Yes,’ Father Giffley said. ‘I wanted to see you—would you care for some whiskey?’
‘No, thank you,’ Father O’Connor said.
‘A follower of Father Mathew?’
‘No, Father.’ He was about to add that eleven o’clock in the morning seemed a little on the early side for heavy spirits, but realised in time that that might be interpreted as a reflection on his superior’s habits. He found them disturbing.
‘Then you might pour some for me,’ Father Giffley ordered. ‘The bottle is at your elbow.’
He had grey, spiky hair and a red face which the heat of the fire had roused to a steaming glow. Father O’Connor poured the whiskey and shuddered at the smell. In a few weeks he had grown to associate the smell of whiskey and the smell of peppermint sweets. His superior’s breath was always heavy with one or the other—or both.
‘You treat it very gingerly, very gingerly indeed,’ Father Giffley boomed at him. ‘Liberality, man. Don’t stint it.’
Father O’Connor withdrew the glass he had been in the act of extending to his superior and poured in a further supply.
‘That’s better,’ Father Giffley said. ‘That’s a more likely looking conqueror of a raw morning.’ He screwed up his eyes, regarding the glass with approval. He had water beside him with which he diluted the sizable measure. Then he drank, made an approving sound with his lips and pursued:
‘You have been with me for some weeks, Father . . .’
‘Six,’ Father O’Connor supplied.
‘Six,’ Father Giffley repeated. The number seemed to give him material for reflection. He gazed for quite a while into the fire, his eyes bulging and bloodshot. He had the habit, when thinking, of grunting and breathing laboriously.
‘The thing that puzzles me is how you came here.’
‘It was my own wish, Father.’
‘So I have been told—but why?’
‘I felt the life in a rich parish too easy. It was not what God called me to the priesthood for.’
‘Do you find the work here more . . . elevating?’
‘It is more arduous, Father. It requires more humility.’
Father Giffley stared at him over his whiskey and left it down without tasting it.
‘Ah—I see. Humility. So that’s the coveted virtue.’
‘I beg your pardon, Father?’
Father Giffley made a sound of impatience. This time he compensated for his previous abstinence and almost emptied the glass.
‘You are full of polite catch-phrases. You beg my pardon; you ask may you come in; I offer you whiskey and you act as though I had told you a bawdy story. I asked you to see me this morning because, frankly, I found it quite impossible to understand what brought you here.’
‘I don’t follow you, Father.’
Father O’Connor was trembling, not with rage, but confusion. His superior terrified him.
‘I am bound to tell you that if you think you’ve come to a good place for the exercise of your priestly office you’ve made a stupid mistake. It is my duty as your parish priest to put you on the right track.’
‘I was not aware that I was displeasing you,’ Father O’Connor said.
‘Displeasing me? Not a bit. Thank God I have not lived in the stink of one slum parish after another without finding ways and means of insulating myself. I am merely warning you of the situation. You have met Father O’Sullivan?’
Father O’Connor had. It was Father O’Sullivan, not Father Giffley, who had instructed him in the parish routine, shown him where vestments and vessels were kept, wished him a happy stay in the parish and hoped he would like the parish priest. He had said that with a sad, shy smile which betrayed that he found Father Giffley just a little bit odd. He was a stout, grey-haired man himself, much given to vigils at the Altar of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. After that first, routine exposition of the workings of St. Brigid’s his conversations with Father O’Connor, though pleasant and friendly, were few.
‘You must study Father O’Sullivan,’ Father Giffley said. ‘While you are here you must follow his example, not that of your parish priest.’
Father O’Connor failed to hide his embarrassment.
‘Really . . . Father,’ he managed.
‘I am trying to help you.’
Screwing up his courage, Father O’Connor faced his superior and said: ‘There is one way in which you could help me very much.’
‘If you could try to like me a little,’ Father O’Connor said. ‘You make me feel useless and unwanted.’
How true it was came freshly to his mind as he said it. Father Giffley had treated him with contempt from the very first day. He had treated him unfairly too, giving him the seven o’clock mass to say each morning without a single respite and taking the ten o’clock mass himself. Father O’Connor had accepted it in a spirit of self-abasement and obedience. The conscious act of submission bore him up as he rose morning after morning in the raw, high-ceilinged bedroom.
‘Is it merely politeness you want? The work here demands slightly different accomplishments.’
‘I had hoped for your guidance in that.’
‘Guidance,’ Father Giffley repeated. He had sat down again and this time he addressed the word to the fire.
‘I had hoped so.’
‘You are a hypocrite, Father.’
Wondering, not for the first time, if his superior was mad, Father O’Connor said:
‘I don’t know why you should say so.’
‘Because you consider me a drunkard.’
‘Oh no, Father.’
‘Yes, indeed, Father.’
Father Giffley took his glass to the whiskey bottle and this time he poured for himself.
‘It’s almost thirty years since I first came to the slums. I didn’t come like you, looking for the dirty work, I came because I was sent. They knew of my weakness for good society and good conversation. I suppose they thought they’d cure me by giving me the faces of the destitute to console me and the minds of the ignorant to entertain me. And the tenements to drink tea in. Have you any idea, Father, how many tenements there are in this gracious city?’
‘Too many, Father, I realise that.’
‘Too many is a generalisation which is good enough for the pious horror one expresses in the pulpit. There are almost six thousand of them and they accommodate about eighty-seven thousand people. I have lived in the centre of that cesspool for thirty years.’
Father Giffley sat on the edge of the table and gave a smile which was a spontaneous flash of triumph.
‘I have at least been able to minister to them without feelings of pious condescension.’
‘Are you suggesting that I . . .’
‘I am drawing your attention to a possibility and reminding you that your office is to serve all equally, right down to the most illiterate poor gawm at my altar rails.’
Father Giffley, having used the possessive pronoun with intent, rose and banged the bell, summoning the housekeeper to clear the table.
That is all I wanted to see you about.’
He went to the window and transferred his interest to the railway signals.
At four in the afternoon a new night had almost begun. The sky outside the bedroom which Fitz was sharing with Pat Bannister was already dark. In the half-light Fitz saw Pat’s shoulder above the bedclothes. He got up and shook him.
Pat squinted at him and realised the significance of what he had said.
‘Thanks be to God,’ he answered, throwing back the clothes, ‘we’ve a few bob to collect.’
They went down to the foundry and found Hennessy and Farrell at the gate. There had been an argument. They had been paid at sixpence an hour. Mulhall was in the office demanding ninepence. Pat went to the pay office and was given six shillings for his twelve-hour stretch. Fitz, being on the regular payroll, was not due to draw his wages until the following day.
‘Overtime rate will be paid to our regular men,’ the pay clerk assured him, ‘it’s only the casuals who are in dispute.’
‘Our agreement is ninepence,’ Mulhall said.
‘I’ve already been into that,’ the pay clerk answered.
‘So has Jim Larkin,’ Mulhall said. ‘He negotiated ninepence. I’m going to report this.’
‘You mustn’t threaten me with Mr. Larkin. We have nothing to say to him.’
‘Maybe he’ll have something to say to you,’ Mulhall said. Then he took the six shillings which the clerk had already set before him and walked out.
‘What about a drink?’ Pat suggested while they were still arguing at the gate.
‘Not for me,’ Farrell said.
Fitz said: ‘Come on. I owe you money.’
‘What about you?’ Pat said to Mulhall.
‘I was thinking of reporting to Larkin . . .’ Mulhall said, tempted.
‘Have a jar and then report to him.’
‘Larkin hates the smell of drink,’ Pat said. ‘He told me once I’d live to see the grass growing over the ruins of Guinness’s Brewery.’
The thought seemed to depress Hennessy.
‘A little drink is no more than our modest due, gentlemen,’ he urged.
They went together, striding purposefully along the tram-rattling streets, conscious of the fact that they had money enough for once to meet the needs of the occasion. Only Hennessy lagged behind.
‘Gentlemen,’ he said, ‘have a little mercy on a man with a rheumaticky back.’ They slowed down and he joined them again. Mulhall guffawed and said:
‘If you left the woman alone now and then you’d find the walking easier.’
‘It’s the only amusement available to the penniless,’ Hennessy said good-humouredly.
As they turned off the main street Fitz slipped some money to Farrell so that he would not be embarrassed when his turn came to buy a drink. They walked between tall decaying houses. Candlelight and lamplight predominated in the tenement windows, with here and there a gas mantle distinguishable by its whiter glow. A lamplighter just ahead of them went methodically about his work, reaching upwards with his long, light cane and leaving a glowing chain of lamps in his wake. The iron railings which bordered the houses took on a wet sheen. Fitz watched him. The lighting of lamps always fascinated him. He said generally:
‘When I was a youngster I always wanted to be a lamplighter.’
‘Does he work for the Gas Company?’ Pat asked.
‘No, the Corporation,’ Hennessy answered knowledgeably. ‘It’s a pensionable job. He nearly lost it once.’
‘Who is he?’ Mulhall asked.
‘Baggy Conlon,’ Hennessy supplied. ‘He’s very fond of a sup and one night after he lit the lamps he went into a pub and fell into company. After a few hours he got stupid drunk and forgot he was after lighting the lamps already. He kept saying he had his work to do and they mustn’t detain him. At last when he came out and saw the lamps were lighted he gets the mistaken notion that it’s putting them out he should be. So off he starts and has half the bloody city in darkness before he’s arrested on a charge of public mischief.’
Then they turned into Cotter’s public house and called for hot whiskeys.
The rags and the beard arrested Father O’Connor’s attention. The travelling sack and the cord about the waist reminded him of pictures of pilgrims in some childhood book. He touched Rashers on the shoulder. Rashers, absorbed in his search of the large ashbin, straightened slowly and looked around. When he saw it was a priest he raised his hat. Father O’Connor fumbled in his pocket and gave him a shilling.
‘The blessings of God and His Holy Mother on you,’ Rashers said.
‘And on you,’ Father O’Connor returned.
He looked down the street. The public clock told him it was a little early for his return to St. Brigid’s, so he lingered.
‘Did you salvage anything of value,’ he asked, ‘a piece of clothing, perhaps?’
‘Not in this lot,’ Rashers said. ‘I wouldn’t be looking here for clothes.’
‘Not . . . food?’ Father O’Connor asked, the thought upsetting him.
‘Sometimes you’d find food,’ Rashers said, ‘but very seldom.’
‘And why not?’
Father O’Connor’s dullness of imagination shocked Rashers, but the shilling claimed indulgence.
‘Because this is a theatrical bin,’ Rashers explained. For a moment Father O’Connor was lost. Then he realised that the windowless side wall behind him belonged to the Royal Theatre and, presumably, the bin was an extra-mural property.
‘I understand,’ he said, looking skywards, so as to hide his smile.
The grey sky, unsmiling, looked back at him. It was only the merest strip above the narrow street, yet it was big enough to contain all the despair of the winter city. Father O’Connor lowered his eyes quickly. The sky, the long, wet, unrelieved wall, the cramped street, the forsaken cobbles, they combined about this ragged figure and turned him suddenly into a denial of God. Should a man smell of filth and scrape in bins?
He said, ‘And what has a theatrical bin to offer?’
‘Cigars and cigarette butts, half smoked at the intervals,’ Rashers said. ‘They light them up and the bell goes and they throw them half finished away. There’s good smoking in a theatrical bin.’ He dug into his pockets.
‘There’s a sample collection,’ he said, displaying his goods.
Father O’Connor pretended interest. He felt the muscles about his mouth tightening and turned his head quickly. Perhaps Father Giffley was right. Perhaps he should not look too closely at things until he had learned the trick of controlling his face.
‘You did well,’ he said.
‘I did better, Father,’ Rashers added. He fumbled and displayed another find.
‘What’s that?’ Father O’Connor asked.
‘It’s a broken ’cello string,’ Rashers said, ‘which is a class of musical instrument.’
Yearling came to mind, smelling of whiskey and with red cheeks. Father O’Connor thought of conversation and smiling, well-mannered people. He tried to dismiss them. It was a world he had turned his back on.
‘Is it useful?’ he asked.
Rashers extended the string to its full length.
‘That’s the best cure for rheumatism in the land,’ he said. ‘I know many a carter will give me twopence for it. Have a look at it.’
But Father O’Connor moved a pace away, declining. The string had come from a dustbin and the hands which offered it for scrutiny were filthy. Rashers, noting the refusal, continued:
‘The carter humps thirty-five tons of coal a week, up and down stairs, in every weather. After a while he gets a dose of rheumatism from the wet sacks. And the only good cure for it is to tie a ’cello string around your waist, right against the skin.’
An older man might have smiled. Father O’Connor did not.
‘They should have more sense,’ he said reprovingly.
‘It’s some virtue in the gut,’ Rashers explained. ‘It’s not there when it’s new, but when the sweat of the fingers has soaked into it, it has the power to draw out the poison. That’s why only used strings is any use.’
‘Nonsense,’ Father O’Connor said. Rashers said nothing. But he took care putting the string back in his pocket The wind caught the two of them, fluttering Rashers’ coat and causing O’Connor to grasp at his hat.
‘We’ll both have rheumatism if we stand here,’ Father O’Connor said. Rashers, realising he was being dismissed, touched his forehead and shuffled away.
Father O’Connor went in the direction of the main thoroughfare, distressed by the poverty which reached out to him from every side, and wondering again what he could do to relieve those who suffered it. The obvious thing was to form a charitable society. Father Giffley had never done so—why, it was hard to understand. Furthermore, Father Giffley would be hard to approach. It would be necessary to beg permission.
That consideration, he determined, must not stop him. He must not let human pride undermine him; he must suffer rebuffs in a spirit of complete humility. But he would need advice and counsel. It occurred to Father O’Connor that the Bradshaws could help him. He considered the problem carefully, weighing his resolve to keep away from comfort and gracious company against his need for guidance and help, a little fearful as he wrestled with it that he might be merely seeking a justification for a visit that was bound to be refreshing and enjoyable. Father O’Connor walked and thought for some time until at last, almost without knowing how it happened, he found himself sitting in the Kingstown tram.
‘About our ninepence an hour,’ Mulhall said, as they were having their second drink.
‘Carrington says you can do nothing,’ Fitz said.
‘Neither can we,’ Farrell said. ‘We don’t work for the foundry. They have us by the short hairs.’
‘I have an idea,’ Mulhall said quietly. ‘They tried it in Belfast.’
‘I wouldn’t be gone on anything they try in Belfast,’ Hennessy said.
The hot whiskey had brought a glow to his cheeks. His eyes were brighter. They searched the public house as he spoke, a pair of magpie eyes that gathered all the scraps and gossip of living.
‘I heard tell of a raffle someone ran once,’ Hennessy explained. ‘The first prize was a week’s holiday in Belfast. And do you know what the second prize was?’
He paused long enough to fix their attention. Then he said:
‘The second prize was two weeks’ holiday in Belfast.’ They laughed, all except Farrell, who said to Mulhall:
‘How do you propose to get the ninepence out of them.’
‘This way. The foundry crowd take coal from Doggett & Co. Very well. The next time I’m told to deliver to the foundry, I’ll refuse.’
‘What good will that do?’ Hennessy asked. ‘They’ll only sack you.’
‘Not if everyone else in Doggett & Co. stands by me.’
‘They could get it from us,’ Pat said.
‘Not if the Nolan & Keyes men do the same thing,’ Mulhall said.
They thought over this. It sounded impracticable at first, but gradually its possibilities suggested themselves.
‘You stand by us—we stand by you?’ Pat said. He was beginning to consider the idea.
‘Simple,’ Mulhall said.
‘Suppose they sack someone,’ Pat offered. ‘Suppose a carter is told to deliver and he refuses and he’s sacked. What then?’
‘Everybody downs tools,’ Mulhall said.
‘We get some of the coal direct from our own boats in the foundry,’ Fitz pointed out.
‘When they start doing that we’ll call on your fellows not to unload,’ Mulhall said.
‘You’d have the whole bloody city tied up in a week, at that rate,’ Pat put in worried.
‘Why not?’ Mulhall urged. ‘That’s what they did in Belfast.’
‘For three shillings?’ Hennessy asked, sceptical.
Farrell banged the table suddenly and roared at him.
His face had become thunderous. Hennessy shrank back.
‘No offence,’ he said, in a startled voice.
‘That’s what’s wrong with this city,’ Farrell said. ‘There isn’t a man of principle in it. I was steady on the quays until I refused to buy the stevedore a drink when he brought us into his brother’s pub to pay us. And I haven’t got a job on the quays since.’
Fitz put his hand on Farrell’s shoulder.
‘What Hennessy says makes sense,’ he said. ‘The issue is only three shillings for about twelve hands. No union would tie up a whole dockside for that.’
‘Larkin would. We have an agreement,’ Mulhall insisted.
‘With the carting firms, but not with the foundry.’
‘Larkin fixed the carters’ rate. It applies to everybody.’
‘Larkin might risk tying up the docks the way you suggest,’ Fitz said, ‘but Sexton and the British Executive won’t. It’s too costly.’
‘If Larkin agrees to do it,’ Mulhall said, ‘I don’t care a damn what the Executive says or thinks. And I’m going to see him about it tomorrow when we knock off.’
‘I’ll go with you,’ Pat said.
‘What about you?’ Mulhall asked Fitz.
Pat said: ‘Fitz can’t. He’s on shift work tomorrow.’
‘You can tell him we’ll stand by you if we’re needed,’ Fitz said, ‘but it’s mad.’
‘That’s the stuff,’ Mulhall said, satisfied.
‘What about you?’ Pat asked Hennessy.
Hennessy sighed and said:
‘The unfortunate fact is that I’ve never been in any job long enough to join a union.’
The voice of a singer drifted in through the closed doors, a hard yet tuneful sound, which distracted Mulhall’s attention.
‘I know who that is,’ he said.
A shadow appeared on the glass, fumbled with the knob and shuffled in. It was Rashers. He blinked in the light. The dog beside him gave a short bark, recognising Mulhall before Rashers did.
‘Are you looking for money or drink?’ Mulhall asked.
‘Either or both,’ Rashers said, agreeably.
The damp air had condensed on his beard and made his rags smell. Mulhall introduced him and invited him to sit down. Rashers did so gratefully.
‘What brings you round this way?’ Hennessy asked.
‘Money or drink,’ Rashers said. Mulhall bought a pint for him and Rashers shook sawdust from a saucer spittoon and poured some of the drink into it for the dog. The dog lapped greedily. Rashers drank to the company.
‘Here’s my special blessing to you,’ he said.
‘Take the porter but keep the blessing,’ Mulhall said. ‘God knows what way a blessing from Rashers Tierney would work.’
‘Have the blessing,’ Rashers said, ‘There’s great virtue in it today.’ He put his pint down and addressed them generally.
‘I had the height of luck today. A young clergyman gave me a shilling. So I had a feed of soup and spuds in the St. Francis Dining Hall, and a cup of cocoa with a cut of bread. I could hardly waddle from there to here.’
He fumbled under his coat.
‘Any one of you gentlemen want to see today’s paper?’
Hennessy held out his hand.
‘Where did you get that?’
‘In one of the bins.’
‘It’s escaped the weather,’ Hennessy said, turning over the pages critically and noting that they were crisp and dry.
‘This was a very classy kind of bin, with a lid on it. And so big you’d be able to take shelter from the rain in it. That’s what I said to the priest who gave me the shilling.’
Hennessy, who had put on his spectacles, now lowered the paper and said to the company:
‘It says here there’s a thousand pounds reward for anyone who gives information or finds the Crown Jewels.’
‘Now we know why Rashers spends his days looking in dustbins.’
‘I’ll give you another bit of information to save you the trouble of reading it,’ Rashers said. ‘There’ll be no more paying in pubs.’
He found he had drawn the full attention of the company. Hennessy lowered the paper; Mulhall put down his drink; Fitz looked first at Rashers and then at Farrell. Farrell leaned across the table.
‘What was that?’ he asked.
Surprised at the interest he had aroused, Rashers explained.
‘The shipowners agreed with Larkin last night to bar the stevedores from paying the dockers in public houses.’
Everybody looked at Farrell.
‘You ought to slip down to the hall,’ Mulhall said.
‘I’d do it right away,’ Pat urged.
There was a great happiness in Mulhall’s face. He had not expected that the belief he expressed in Larkin would be so quickly justified. Farrell rose uncertainly.
‘If you’ll excuse me . . .’ he began.
He was torn between the importance of the news and the fact that he was proposing to leave before taking his turn to buy the company a drink.
‘Go on,’ Fitz urged, ‘don’t be standing on ceremony.’
Farrell went, and Rashers, staring after him and scratching his head, asked:
‘What the hell have I done on your friend?’
‘You’ve earned your pint, Rashers,’ Mulhall answered.
Fitz smiled. He, too, felt the stirring of a new, slightly incredulous hope.
Hennessy and Rashers were the last to leave. They were both unsteady. At Chandlers Court Rashers sat down on the wet steps, cleared his throat and began to sing. Hennessy remembered his wife.
‘For God’s sake—stop it,’ he appealed.
‘All right,’ Rashers agreed, ‘but sit down beside me and we’ll have a chat.’
‘I daren’t—not with this rheumatism.’
‘I’ve offered you the cure.’
‘I’m not giving you tuppence. I’ve spent more than enough already.’
‘Please yourself. There’s many a carter will be glad to get a good ’cello string for tuppence.’ A thought struck Rashers.
‘Who was the young fellow that was with us?’
‘The dark young fellow?’
‘Certainly,’ Rashers said.
‘Fitzpatrick. He’s thinking of tying the knot.’
‘Ah. Getting married. It’s a contagious notion between two opposites.’
‘He works in the foundry.’
‘He stood me a pint, so God give him luck.’
‘And do you know where he hopes to live?’
Hennessy jerked his thumb over his shoulder at the hall of 3 Chandlers Court. Rashers looked unbelieving.
‘No,’ he challenged.
‘When the Kennys move out.’
This was news to Rashers.
‘They’re off to America in a fortnight. I’d like to go myself.’ Another thought struck him.
‘Suppose you found the Crown Jewels or something—would you go to America?’
‘I’d often a wish to go to France.’
‘The French have a queer way of living,’ Rashers said. ‘Very immoral, by all accounts.’
‘I’d like to see the vineyards.’
‘Isn’t porter good enough for you?’
‘It’s the grapes. Lovely green clusters.’
‘Some of them is black.’
‘Did you ever taste grapes?’
‘Every morning at breakfast,’ Rashers said, putting on a grand accent, ‘and twice of a Sunday.’
‘Grapes is the loveliest things you ever tasted,’ Hennessy said.
‘Wasn’t I reared on them,’ Rashers insisted.
‘I worked on a job in a kitchen in Merrion Square,’ Hennessy explained, ‘and the oul wan there was never done eating grapes. For a fortnight I had grapes every day because I used to lift a few off the table. I’ve always had a wish for grapes since then.’
‘Were they black or green?’
‘Them is for invalids,’ Rashers said, knowledgeably.
‘I’d better go up,’ Hennessy said.
But Rashers was in a mood for conversation.
‘Sit down, can’t you,’ he appealed.
‘I wouldn’t risk it. The pain in me back is desperate.’
Rashers fumbled under his coat and took out the ’cello string. He screwed up his face until the beard covered it completely and said in sudden love of all mankind:
‘Here, you can have it.’
‘I couldn’t take it,’ Hennessy said.
‘Amn’t I offering it to you for nothing.’
‘No. I couldn’t deprive you.’
Rashers cursed violently.
‘You’re a contrairy bloody man,’ he shouted. ‘I proffered it to you for tuppence and you wouldn’t venture the money. Then I offer it to you for nothing, for the sake of neighbourliness and friendship, and begod, you say you couldn’t take it. Have you rheumatism at all?’
Hennessy looked behind nervously.
‘Keep your voice down,’ he pleaded.
If you didn’t eat so many bloody grapes,’ Rashers said loudly, ‘you wouldn’t have rheumatism.’
Hennessy panicked and said:
‘All right. I’ll sit down to please you.’
The steps felt wet. After a while Hennessy shivered and drew his coat about him with his hands. They sat talking in low voices, Hennessy to sober up a little before facing his wife, Rashers because it was hardly less comfortable than his room and had the advantage of company of a kind. The dog sat with them too, its head turning from one side to the other as occasional footsteps approached and passed.
‘The first thing you’d do if you found the Crown Jewels is buy grapes, isn’t that right?’ Rashers asked.
‘And go to France,’ Hennessy agreed.
‘The first thing I’d do is buy a tin whistle,’ Rashers said, ‘and stay where I bloody well am and play it.’
The belligerent note disappeared. His voice became gloomy. ‘And it’s not a lot to ask for, is it?’ he added. They were silent. Then Rashers looked up into the rain at the darkness of the sky.
‘Do you think Jesus Christ is up there?’ he asked.
‘And His blessed Mother,’ Hennessy affirmed, touching his hat.
‘Can he see us?’
‘That’s what the Penny Catechism says.’
‘Through the rain?’
‘I don’t think the rain makes any difference.’
They rose and faced the hallway. Above their heads all the windows, spaced out evenly in the flat face of the tenement, showed their late lamps. As they moved forward the dog stiffened and barked. They looked around. A tall figure approached, paused to pet the dog and said:
‘Good night, men.’
Each said good night in turn. The man passed on. Hennessy, his magpie eyes alight with information once again, gazed after the retreating figure. Then he turned to Rashers.
‘Do you know who that was?’
‘He was polite, anyway,’ Rashers said, pleased about the dog.
‘It was Jim Larkin,’ Hennessy said, delighted that he had so easily identified someone who was becoming the talk of Dublin.
The city faced the winter as best it could. It had its days of good weather, the freakish out-of-season days that always came to surprise it, as though a piece of summer had fallen from heaven out of its turn, days when the gulls looked whiter and the river wore a blue, chilled sparkle.
It was on such a day that Fitz took Mary to view the flat in Chandlers Court. He was uncertain how she would take it. She had hoped so much for a place of their own. But she realised it was best to make definite plans as soon as possible. Her own small capital was almost exhausted.
The hallway, even on so good a morning, looked grim enough. The staircase and the worn steps sagged and creaked as they climbed. But the rooms themselves were better. A large window overlooking the street gave glimpses of the mountains, now blue and bare, and admitted plenty of sunlight. Children at play in the street made sounds that were happy and tolerably distant. The large fireplace, with its marble surround left over from better days, gave plenty of room for cooking. A bedroom and a kitchenette completed the flat which, at four shillings and threepence a week was dearer, but then bigger, than average. The Kennys would be leaving in a week. When they reached the street again Mary said:
‘Well, what do you think?’
‘It suits me.’
She tightened her arm on his and said: ‘It’s a nice room but I wonder about the house.’
‘The people across the landing are all right.’
‘I wouldn’t know.’
Mary considered. Then she said: ‘Let’s take it, Fitz.’
‘Good,’ he said, ‘we’ll take it next week.’
‘How can we do that?’
‘I can move in with Pat,’ Fitz said.
‘Won’t he mind?’
‘I don’t think so. It’s a bit dearer, but he isn’t happy about the place we’re in.’
Joe Somerville was with Pat when Fitz made the suggestion. Pat had lit the fire and was drying a pair of drawers.
‘It’s a dearer room,’ Fitz said, ‘but I’ll stand the extra.’
‘Why don’t you move in with the girl right away?’ Pat asked.
Fitz smiled and said: ‘Some people regard that as immoral.’
‘It wouldn’t deter me,’ Pat said.
‘We all know your tastes in the matter,’ Joe said sourly.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Down in Mabbot Street with Lily Maxwell.’
‘It isn’t in Mabbot Street.’
‘Then wherever it is. Fitz thinks more of himself than that.’
‘I don’t see what’s wrong with Lily Maxwell.’
‘Visiting the kip shops,’ Joe said, ‘when you get a skinful.’
‘It’s a very natural class of an occupation.’
‘It’s not Christian,’ Joe said.
‘I’ve never laid claim to being a Christian,’ Pat said, in a reasonable tone.
The steam from the drawers rose about his wrists and face and upwards towards the oil lamp on the box beside him.
‘You’ll crack the funnel of the lamp!’ Joe shouted.
He was low-sized and squat and worked for Nolan & Keyes with Pat. Pat moved the lamp back.
‘As a socialist,’ he explained, ‘I don’t regard marriage as necessary.’
‘The union of decent Christians has to be blessed by a priest,’ Joe insisted.
‘Who blessed the union of Adam and Eve, then?’ Pat asked. ‘Don’t tell me there was a priest.’
‘Very well,’ Pat said, ‘let Fitz ask God to bless the union and go ahead. It won’t do any harm, and he’ll save a few bob.’
‘It was all right for Adam and Eve,’ Joe said, ‘but now the Church has the sacrament of marriage.’
‘A class of modern convenience,’ Pat said, ‘like the electric tram. If you want to know, it was the capitalists who invented marriage in order to protect the laws of inheritance.’
‘You’re too bitter altogether against religion,’ Joe said.
‘Maybe you’d have me like Keever, asking the office clerk to give him the stamps to save for the black babies.’
‘I suppose if he was collecting stamps for Karl Marx he’d be a hero,’ Joe snarled.
‘I’d be satisfied for a start if he began paying his subscription to the union.’
‘He’s only trying to help the missionaries.’
‘The missionaries do more harm than good.’
Exasperated, Joe appealed to Fitz.
‘There’s not a charitable drop in him,’ he accused.
‘Charity begins with my own class,’ Pat insisted.
‘And isn’t Keever your own class?’ Joe shouted.
‘No,’ Pat shouted back. ‘Because he’s against us. He that is not with me is against me.’
‘Now he has the bloody nerve to quote the Bible at me,’ Joe protested.
Fitz said: ‘For God’s sake stop talking like a pair of public meetings.’
They both glared at each other in silence.
‘I’m getting married at Easter,’ Fitz said, ‘and I’m asking if you’ll move in with me so that I can hold on to the flat when it’s left empty. If you don’t want to do that, say so.’
‘Of course I’ll move in with you,’ Pat said, ‘if you haven’t got the courage to go against the institutions of capitalist society.’
‘I haven’t. Does that satisfy you?’
‘It doesn’t,’ Pat said, ‘but I’ll have to put up with it, I suppose.’
He felt the drawers and judged them to be dried out enough to hang on a line that stretched from the bedpost to the corner of the fireplace. He drew the legs down so that they hung at full length.
‘They’re nearly as holy as Keever himself,’ he remarked.
Joe opened his mouth but had to close it again. He could think of nothing to say.
Winter took a heavy toll of life in the parish of St. Brigid, where the old succumbed to the usual diseases. Parish duties kept Father O’Connor busy. People asked for the priest, were anointed, and left the overcrowded rooms for whatever place God and their way of living had prepared for them. He found the dirt and the poverty hard to get used to. Even the room he slept in joined forces with the weather and fell in league with the district that surrounded it. There were damp spots on the wall and damp patches on the painting of Our Lady of Sorrows. When the window was open the noise of trains and traffic was unbearable; when it was closed the room became musty and unpleasant. The iron-framed bed was a double one, unpriestly and lonely. Father Giffley continued to be boorish and unfriendly.
‘A charitable society,’ he repeated, ‘I am more interested in your finding me another boilerman.’
The boilerman who had tended the unreliable contraption which heated the water system for the church, had been one of the winter’s victims. His body was due to arrive at the church that evening.
Father O’Connor said: ‘I have been enquiring about a deserving case.’
‘You want a charitable society,’ Father Giffley said with a snort, ‘yet you are unable to find a deserving case.’
‘The poor man is only dead two days.’
‘Throw a stone from any window in the parish of St. Brigid. You’re bound to hit a hungry wretch.’
‘He must be trustworthy.’
‘For ten shillings a week—impossible.’
‘I’ll do my best,’ Father O’Connor submitted. If his superior did his share of the duties there might be more time to attend to the matter he was complaining of. Father O’Connor resisted the temptation to say so.
‘Hanlon was a gentle poor old dodderer,’ Father Giffley brooded.
‘His chest was bad, I understand.’
‘He didn’t die of a surfeit of piety, anyway, the poor soul.’
‘His language was sometimes objectionable.’
Father Giffley was surprisingly tolerant. ‘It’s their physic against ill health,’ he said. ‘As for charitable societies—charity in this parish must remain the monopoly of the Protestants. They have the money. We haven’t.’
‘We lost a family to them last week,’ Father O’Connor said, using an argument that Father Giffley, he felt certain, could not dare to ignore. But his superior took it as a necessary part of the pattern.
‘A bowl of soup, a hot bath—and then they wash them in the Blood of the Lamb,’ he said. ‘Do you know, I’ve heard them singing in the streets a thing that goes: “Yes, we shall gather at the River”. Grown adults warbling about gathering at the river is beyond me.’
‘I think the river is figurative, representing the flow of grace . . .’
Father Giffley sat upright.
‘Do I need explanations of what is obvious and elementary?’ He left down his whiskey glass.
‘What family has apostasised?’
The word startled Father O’Connor. It fell into the room with an evil and terrible sound.
‘People named Conlan. Keever, one of my confraternity men, told me. I’ve tried to trace them but they seem to have moved into another parish.’
‘They always do,’ Father Giffley said.
‘It happens often, then . . . ?’
‘No, not often. Our parishioners keep the Faith. It is the only thing most of them have.’
‘That is why I am anxious to start some kind of relief fund.’
‘The ladies of the parish . . .’
‘There are no ladies in the parish of St. Brigid; except, of course, a few ladies of light virtue. And even they find it difficult to live.’
‘I was going to say—the ladies of the parish of Kingstown. Some of them are very interested.’
‘Have you asked them?’
‘I have described the conditions here. They seemed anxious to help.’
Father Giffley looked at the young man for some time, his eyes reflective, his cheeks veined and swollen. He hated the fair hair and pale, unlined face. He hated the humble manner and the bowed head, the zeal for good works which he was convinced was an outlet for a strange form of snobbery. Father Giffley, while his junior waited patiently for a decision, let his mind wander through the parish he had spent so many lonely years in. He hated it too, and made no effort to do otherwise. In his own way he pitied the people. He had no contempt for them. It was not their fault that they were born into poverty or that the rooms they inhabited were overcrowded. The filth they lived in was unavoidable. And this self-centred young fool wanted to scratch at the surface.
Father Giffley said:
‘Some form of relief fund? Very well. You have my permission, Father.’
He held up his glass and regarded it through half-closed eyes. There would be words of gratitude.
‘I am deeply grateful, Father.’
That was the phrase Father Giffley had anticipated. He smiled at his glass, as though it, too, had guessed aright.
‘When will you start?’
‘At the earliest moment . . . with your permission?’
There it was again. Deeply grateful. With your permission.
‘Do you think, Father, that the widow who gave her mite may have had it from the ladies of Kingstown?’
Father O’Connor flushed. He did not know what his superior meant, except that he intended to be insulting.
‘I don’t know what you mean, Father.’
He was embarrassed and unhappy.
‘Your charitable efforts will be a cover for hypocrisy, because you know you can do nothing for these people by throwing them a blanket or giving them a hot meal.’
‘A family left our church for that.’
‘You see. You are worried exclusively about souls, Father. You must worry now and then about human beings. Ask the ladies of Kingstown and their husbands to give back what they have taken.’
Father Giffley began to laugh. It was not the sort of laughter that was meant to be shared. Father O’Connor remained silent. The fact that one of his cloth should be a drunkard distressed him unbearably. He looked pointedly at the clock.
‘I have the funeral to receive,’ he said. He rose.
Father Giffley fixed his eyes on the young, hurt, disapproving face.
‘Let me tell you something before you leave,’ he said, in a kindlier tone. ‘It may help you—it may not.’ Father O’Connor sat down again.
‘You have seen a Mrs. Bartley from time to time?’
Father O’Connor had. Before first mass, or very late at night, he had seen her on her knees, scrubbing the floors, scraping candle-grease from the sanctuary carpet with the broken blade of a knife. She was one of a number of casual cleaners.
‘Mrs. Bartley had a child who was very ill once. He was on the point of death,’ Father Giffley continued. ‘I sat in her room throughout the whole of a winter’s night and watched the child. I don’t know why I did it. I prayed some of the time. Some of the time I wiped the sweat from the child’s forehead. The woman sat with me and so did the father. She made tea for me throughout the night, but they spoke to me hardly at all. They had never heard before of a priest sitting all night with a child. When I left in the morning the child had not died. He was sleeping easily and by the next day it was obvious that he was going to live.’
Father Giffley sighed and added:
‘For some months I was highly edified by my priestly conduct. Mrs. Bartley believed there had been a miracle. In fact she is probably the only parishioner who, whenever she salutes this poor, drunken oddity, feels she is in the presence of a saint. You see—she thinks I have a harmless fondness for peppermints.’
‘Father . . . please.’
‘And, oddly enough, I should not like her to learn the truth.’
‘You feel there was a miracle?’
‘The child? No. But in me there was. For one isolated night I had found the true disposition, so that even if the child had died they would still have drawn comfort and peace from me.’
‘It was a privileged experience.’
‘Your ladies of Kingstown will never teach you how to find it. They’ll do worse. They’ll draw you away, into self-satisfied almsgiving. But if you can find it for yourself you will be the comforter of the destitute, even when your pocket and your belly are as empty as theirs.’
Father O’Connor hardly knew what to say. He looked at the purple-veined face, the bulging eyes, the strong nose with the sprouting hairs marking each nostril. This heavy-breathing boor was trying to show him the road to sanctity. At last he said:
‘I appreciate what you have told me.’
‘It is the only piece of truth I have ever learned,’ Father Giffley said.
Father O’Connor guessed he was being challenged. If so, organising charity was an excellent beginning. Some of the poor, at least, could be fed. Not them all, because there were too many. One started with the most deserving. And, of course, with those who seemed tempted to apostasise, even though the apostate could never be said to be deserving.
‘I will give thought to what you’ve told me, Father,’ he said.
In the presbytery the clerk had Father O’Connor’s black cope and biretta laid out for him and beside it the brass bowl and the sprinkler for the holy water. He was rubbing his hands with the cold. Hanlon’s labours, though inefficient at the best of times, were missed. The boilerman was dead, and the pipes out of action. A damp cold had gripped every part of the church.
‘He went off very sudden, Father,’ the clerk said.
‘He did, poor man.’
‘The oul chest was very poorly,’ the clerk said. Father O’Connor took the book and marked the appropriate section with a purple-coloured tab. He did not answer the clerk. Recognising that the priest had no desire to talk about the dead boilerman, the clerk turned to business.
‘There are two people in the outer room wishing to see you,’ he said.
‘They must wait,’ Father O’Connor told him.
He vested reluctantly and went down the church to the porch-way, where he paused and saw that the funeral had arrived and was marshalled on the far side of the street. In the light of the gas-lamps the leading horses waited, their black plumes stiff and upright. On each side of the hearse a candle flame wavered in its little glass tomb. Behind stood the mourners: the women with shawls over their heads, the men—now that the church door had been reached—uncovered. Traffic passed slowly to show respect and stopped on either side when the hearse and followers began to cross the street. They held the coffin at the church door while Father O’Connor, about to admit it, sprinkled it with holy water, welcoming what was left of Hanlon back to the church he had spent some winters working in. Under his aloft hand the fittings became marked with blobs of holy water. The leading women began to weep loudly. One of the men, grey-haired and shabby, nodded a greeting to Father O’Connor, who did not know him but placed him as a brother of Hanlon’s because there was a clear resemblance. Without acknowledging him Father O’Connor turned and walked down the echoing church. It amplified the sounds of grief and the sharp contact of boots on marble. In the mortuary chapel he stood at the head of the coffin once again and read the prayers, four candles in front of him. The people were poor, yet the coffin was a good one. It was a point of honour with them to bury their dead decently. He led them in a decade of the rosary, his voice unhurried but efficient, his mind quite detached from his surroundings. He found it impossible to feel anything about his congregation. Here, in a shadowed chapel, dismal with cold, where the air was unpleasant because of the corpse and the close-packed mourners, another one of the obscure thousands was poised between the anonymity of his life and the anonymity of the grave. Day after day he said the same prayers and went through the same ceremonial. There were particular deaths no longer, only Death in general.
He conduded and was approached by the grey-haired man.
‘I was his brother,’ he said in a whisper. Father O’Connor realised that he expected formal sympathy.
‘I see,’ Father O’Connor said. He handed the sprinkler back to the clerk.
‘Good evening, Andy,’ the man said to the clerk.
‘I’m sorry for your trouble, Pat,’ the clerk said.
‘You were a good friend, Andy.’
Father O’Connor took the man’s hand.
‘I will pray for your brother at my masses,’ he said.
‘Thank you, Father, you’re very kind.’
It seemed to be enough. The grip on Father O’Connor’s hand tightened for a moment and was withdrawn. He returned to the sacristy.
Father O’Connor unvested. There was a void inside him as though Jesus Christ himself were a lie and there was no Church, no Belief, nothing but the dominion of darkness and mortality. He wondered that he should want to help anybody, least of all the poor. They came carrying their stinking corpses to be blessed and despatched. They were uncouth and ill-clad and rough of tongue. They had faces and forms that were half animal. The clerk whispered:
‘The two people is still inside, Father. A young couple. They want to arrange to get married.’
To get married. To sleep in the sweat of one bed and deposit in due time a few more animal faces among the dirt and the dilapidation.
‘They must wait,’ Father O’Connor snapped, and turned away.
He felt he must clean himself, change his clothes, wash. He thought of his mother and ached for her presence, for her comforting voice and lovable fingers. Taking the Galway rosary from his pocket, he went to the prieu-dieu and knelt for a long time, not so much in prayer as in thought, his mind reliving what remained with him of childhood, the favourite memories he had guarded passionately against annihilation. They helped as they always did.
The clerk, returning, found him still on his knees and was about to withdraw again when Father O’Connor rose and said in a voice which betrayed his tiredness:
‘Please tell the two people I am coming.’
‘It won’t be necessary now,’ the clerk said, ‘Father Giffley is already with them.’
‘I thought Father Giffley was in his room.’
‘He came down a while ago and found them waiting. He said he would deal with it.’
‘Thank you,’ Father O’Connor said, wondering bitterly if Father Giffley was in a condition to talk to anybody. He decided he did not care, and went out again to the church, where he stood for some time in the mortuary chapel. The coffin plate bore the name ‘Edward Hanlon’ and was still damp from the sprinkler. The Christian name looked out of place. It had never been used when Hanlon was referred to about the church. The shrine in front of the small altar was ablaze with candles, which the mourners had lit before leaving. For each candle a halfpenny had been dropped into the donation box, a small sum which called, nevertheless, for self-sacrifice. They made an occasion of death, giving it its due in candles and coffins.
At the high altar he tried to pray again, but still the emptiness dragged at him, his feeling of depression and purposelessness increased. He abandoned the attempt after a while and moved down the almost empty church to the porchway, where he clasped his hands behind his back and stared dismally at the traffic. His immediate need, he knew, was companionship. In Kingstown he could have muffled up and walked briskly between rows of elegant houses to the seafront, where one could pace away depression and the air was always fresh and invigorating. He could have called on one of his parishioners and spent an hour or so in pleasant conversation. There was no one to talk to in that way here.
A voice beside him said: ‘Good evening, Father.’
It was Rashers Tierney. He was about to let him pass with a formal nod when an idea occurred to him.
‘Just a moment,’ he said.
Rashers, who had put on his hat in the porch, removed it again. Father O’Connor took in the shabby clothes and the hungry-looking face. Why not? Surely here was a deserving case, a poorer one than the poor themselves.
‘Have you been in the church?’
‘I showed a young couple the way to the presbytery. Then I went in to say a prayer or two for the late lamented.’
‘You knew Hanlon?’
‘A decent poor skin,’ Rashers said.
‘Could you do his work?’
‘Stoking a little bit of a boiler wouldn’t be beyond me, Father. Sure what’s in it?’
‘If you are free tomorrow call to me after the eight o’clock mass. I’ll give you a week’s trial.’
‘As boilerman?’ Rashers asked, not sure that he understood aright.
‘As temporary boilerman,’ Father O’Connor qualified.
He went back into the church. He was satisfied to feel he would be able to tell Father Giffley that he had engaged a boilerman. If the fellow proved unsuitable he could be easily replaced. It was one duty disposed of for the moment. Still restless, he climbed the side stairs to the organ loft. Below him the pews, divided into geometrical sections by the centre and side aisles, moved in rows to the altar rails. Above them in its funnel of red glass, the sanctuary lamp displayed its tiny flame. Father O’Connor sat on the stool at the large harmonium which did service instead of an organ and leaned his elbows on the manual. The keys were yellow and cracked, like practically everything else in St Brigid’s. When he rested his foot on one of the foot pumps a thin note sounded. He sat upright, startled. Realising that one of the keys must be stuck he made a laborious search in the half-dark of the gallery until he found it. He prised it gently back into position with his fingernail until the sound stopped. Then he pumped with his feet and pressed the note again. This time it released when he removed the pressure of his finger. He pressed it again, listened, built a chord on it, moved to a related chord and completed a phrase which reminded him of the ‘Ave Verum’. He began to play it, softly at first and then, as the music engaged him, more loudly and purposefully. He switched to a secular tune and then to a march by Handel which he remembered from his student days. It filled the church with a cracked and wheezy grandeur, so that the three or four of the faithful scattered in the pews below turned their heads and looked up. Father O’Connor played for some time, until the gallery door opened and the clerk stood waiting for his attention.
‘What is it now?’ Father O’Connor said. The small mirror in front of him, used by the organist so that ceremonies could be followed without it being necessary to turn the head, reflected the rose-coloured sanctuary lamp and caught the effulgence of unseen shrine candles against a velvet darkness.
‘It’s Father Giffley. He wants to speak with you immediately.’
Wondering what piece of urgent unimportance his superior had fastened on this time, Father O’Connor accompanied the clerk to the vestry. He was in time to see the young couple as they left and recognised the girl immediately.
‘Were they the callers about the marriage?’ he asked the clerk.
‘They are, Father.’
‘I think I know what Father Giffley wants. Where is he?’
That was quite typical of Father Giffley, to send for a person and then expect to be followed to his rooms.
‘I’ll go immediately,’ Father O’Connor said. He tried not to betray his annoyance.
He crossed the courtyard with its grimy Calvary set against the high stone wall and climbed the stairs. Father Giffley was entering details of something in a black book.
‘You had one of my former parishioners with you I see,’ Father O’Connor said.
‘You recognised her?’
‘She was a servant girl in the house of friends of mine—the Bradshaws.’
‘What do you know about her?’
‘She left her employment, presumably to take up with a young man.’
‘The young man was with her. They explained to me.’
‘I hope she is not in trouble. Mrs. Bradshaw would feel responsible.’
Father Giffley put down his pen and stared.
‘You sometimes shock even me,’ he said at last.
‘I don’t understand,’ Father O’Connor protested.
‘If the unfortunate girl is in trouble, as you term it, don’t you think that her plight is more worthy of your sympathy than the delicacy of Mrs. Bradshaw’s feelings?’
‘That is not what I meant.’
‘The girl is not in trouble, unless you consider wanting to get married to a decent young man a trouble.’
‘I am sorry. I thought you might wish to question me about her background.’
‘Don’t be a fool,’ Father Giffley said and returned to his writing.
Father O’Connor stared at the bowed head and struggled to control his temper. At last he said: ‘You mustn’t speak to me like that.’
Father Giffley looked up as though surprised to hear the voice and find someone still there.
‘You must not speak to me as though I were a servant.’
‘I see,’ Father Giffley said. He laid his pen aside and folded his arms.
‘And what are you—if not a servant?’
‘I am a priest.’
‘A priest. And what is a priest?’
‘He is not to be spoken to like a dog,’ Father O’Connor said.
‘Are you questioning my authority?’
‘Not your authority. Your manner. Your cruelty.’
‘Do you wish to make a complaint?’
‘Very much so.’
‘Then make it to any quarter you think fit,’ Father Giffley challenged. ‘As for me, I will go on treating you as I feel you deserve.’
‘You have no right to humiliate me.’
‘I am trying to teach you that social disease cannot be cured with buns and cocoa. Until you condescend to live in the world of the parish you serve I will continue to chastise your pride.’
‘I have made my protest,’ Father O’Connor said, ‘and I will leave it at that for the moment.’
He put his hand on the door handle and was about to leave when Father Giffley snapped: ‘One moment, Father.’
He turned round.
‘You have not yet heard what I wanted to speak to you about.’
‘I am sorry,’ Father O’Connor said, ‘I thought you had finished.’
‘You were playing on that foul instrument in the organ loft.’
‘Is that forbidden too?’ Father O’Connor asked bitterly.
‘Tonight it was not fitting.’
‘May I ask why not?’
‘Any of my respected parishioners could tell you why not. The body of the poor boilerman who served us well is lying in the church. Was he too lowly to qualify for your respect?’
Father O’Connor’s face changed.
‘You had forgotten?’ Father Giffley suggested.
Father O’Connor said nothing. He was trapped. It was true. He had forgotten.
‘That is what I wanted to say,’ Father Giffley concluded.
On Easter Tuesday evening Mary and Fitz moved into 3 Chandlers Court. Their feet on the unfamiliar stairs made an echoing noise and they had to pick their way carefully until a figure holding an oil lamp appeared on the landing above them and addressed her for the first time as Mrs. Fitzpatrick.
‘This is Mrs. Mulhall,’ Fitz introduced.
‘I’ve taken the liberty of laying down a bit of a fire,’ Mrs. Mulhall explained. ‘I thought it would make the room cosy.’
The elderly woman before her looked quiet-natured and good-hearted. There would be a new life, with new friends.
‘You’ll come over later?’ Mary invited.
‘For a little while,’ Mrs. Mulhall agreed, ‘when you’re both rested.’
The living room was bare except for a table, a cupboard, some chairs and a long couch Fitz had bought and repaired in his spare evenings.
They drew this over to the fire.
‘It’s a bit bare, isn’t it?’ Fitz said.
They sat down. The fire in the half-light cast friendly shadows. It was theirs, at least. There would be no more partings, no more reluctant goodbyes, no more being the only person in the whole world. On impulse she kissed Fitz, surprising him. He knew something had moved her deeply and said:
‘Why did you do that?’
‘I thought of a lonely old woman.’
‘Miss Gilchrist. I wonder if she is still with Mrs. Bradshaw.’
‘What made you think of her?’
‘Just before I left them she was sick and I often sat in front of the fire in her room. She told me to stick to service.’
‘Why did she want you to do that?’
Mary smiled. ‘I think she loved someone years and years ago. And because she never married she consoled herself that being in service in a good house was the best thing, after all.’
‘Have you missed it?’
‘What was there to miss?’
‘Practically everything people fight each other for: good food and comfortable houses.’
Mary looked about her at the room.
‘I think I like this place better.’
‘The pay isn’t quite so good,’ Fitz said.
Mary smiled and said:
‘The duties are lighter.’
‘That’s true. Not so much silver to be polished.’
‘And the meals won’t be such a problem.’
‘But I’ll make up by brushing your clothes every morning.’
‘That won’t be much of a problem either.’
‘Then I’ll mend your broken socks.’
‘That might take longer.’
‘And answer the door.’
‘That seems to settle everything.’
He took her in his arms.
‘How long are you likely to stay?’
‘Until I’m as old as Miss Gilchrist,’ she answered.
After a while he released her and she rose, made a paper spill and began to light the lamp. He watched her. She removed the globe, trimmed the wick and touched it with the flame. Then she replaced the globe. He wondered, as she leaned over to set the lamp on the table, how often in the course of their life together she would go through the same routine. How often would he sit and admire without speaking her dark hair showing its lustre in the lamplight and worship her face that was fine-boned and beautiful. It made him sad to have so little to offer to her, to think even that little should be so insecure.
‘Your friend Pat is comical,’ he heard her saying. Fitz noticed that they had reversed moods and thought of the two figures on some novelty clocks he had seen in Moore Street. When one came out the other went in; he remembered from childhood that they were fine-weather-and-foul-weather-never-seen-together.
‘He has great heart,’ he agreed.
Pat had acted as best man. He paid for a cab from the church to the Farrells’ cottage and after breakfast he had pressed a sovereign into Fitz’s hand. Fitz, wondering at his sudden wealth, guessed that he had had a stroke of unusually good luck at the horses. But he had found no opportunity to ask.
‘Is he wild?’ Mary asked.
‘A bachelor and fancy free.’
‘He seemed to have plenty of money.’
It’s some windfall or other,’ Fitz said, ‘most of the time he hasn’t a cigarette.’
‘He needs a woman’s hand,’ Mary said. ‘You’d think he’d have a girl friend.’
‘He has,’ Fitz said. And then, as an afterthought he added, ‘A sort of a one.’
‘Who is she?’
‘A girl named Lily Maxwell. When Pat knocks himself about in a spree he usually ends up in her room. She looks after him.’
At eight o’clock the Mulhalls arrived and by nine they had been joined by Mr. and Mrs. Farrell. Joe came later and later still Pat surprised them by arriving in presentable shape. He had a heavy parcel which he immediately deposited in a corner, and a bottle of whiskey which he pressed into Fitz’s hands.
‘There’s my welcome,’ he whispered. The local publican had loaned glasses. Fitz offered port to the women. The men played their expected part by pressing them and coaxing them. Mrs. Farrell gave in first, remarking that she would be a long time dead. Mrs. Mulhall also agreed, on condition that Mary did likewise. When everybody had a full glass Pat proposed the toast of the bride and groom and after that there was no further reluctance.
An hour later Rashers paused on the steps and looked up at the lighted windows. Pat’s voice drifted into the dark street, his song winding past gas-lamps and growing faint and being swallowed altogether in other sounds. He was singing ‘Comrades’.
‘Comrades, comrades ever since we were boys
Sharing each other’s troubles, sharing each other’s joys.’
Rashers, conscious suddenly of the emptiness of the street, looked down sadly at his dog and petted it before going in. Mrs. Mulhall, troubled by some memory or other, wept a little as she listened.
‘That was lovely,’ she said, when Pat had finished.
‘Hasn’t he a grand voice altogether,’ Mrs. Farrell remarked.
‘He’d draw tears from a glass eye,’ Joe said.
‘A few bars from yourself, ma’am,’ Pat invited. But Mrs. Mulhall said she had no voice.
‘You’ve voice enough when it comes to giving out the pay to me,’ Mulhall assured her.
Everybody took a hand in encouraging her and at last she gave in and began to sing ‘If I were a Blackbird’. Her voice was thin and had a quiver in it, but Mulhall regarded her with a proud look. They were a kindly couple, Fitz thought, unbroken by hardship. He hoped he would reach Mulhall’s age with as much of his courage and his world intact.
When the song finished Fitz raised his glass and said: ‘Here’s to ninepence an hour.’
Mulhall, delighted, repeated ‘Ninepence an hour’ and drank.
‘How is it going?’ Farrell asked.
‘They’re marking time,’ Pat said. He was elaborately complacent.
‘Larkin wrote and said we won’t deliver to the foundry,’ Mulhall explained. ‘We’ve heard nothing more since.’
‘They haven’t paid,’ Joe put in.
‘Any day now they’ll load us and tell us to deliver to the foundry. We’ll all refuse.’
‘Amen,’ Pat said.
‘If they lock you out we’ll stand by you on the quays,’ Farrell said.
‘I wonder,’ Mulhall said, challenging him.
‘It’s a certainty,’ Farrell assured him.
‘That’s worth drinking to,’ Pat declared.
‘I’m sure Mrs. Fitzpatrick doesn’t want to begin married life with a session about strikes,’ Mrs. Farrell protested.
‘I’m not listening,’ Mary said lightly.
She was making tea. There was something about her which set her apart from the others, a way of moving, of lifting things, of using her features and varying her intonation when she spoke.
‘That’s the proper way to treat them,’ Mrs. Farrell agreed, ‘don’t listen.’
The women were having tea and cake when Hennessy tapped at the door. Fitz invited him in. He stood uncertainly and said to Mrs. Mulhall:
‘I was knocking at your room, ma’am, this while back. Then I chanced to hear the voices and guessed you might be here.’
Is there something I can get you?’
‘Herself was wondering if you’d oblige her with the loan of a cup of sugar.’
Mrs. Mulhall rose, but Fitz looked at Mary and she went to the cupboard.
‘I hesitate to trouble you . . .’ Hennessy protested.
‘We have it to spare,’ Mary assured him.
Fitz invited Hennessy to drink and he sat down.
‘My respects and wishes for a long and happy life,’ he toasted.
‘How is the work with you?’ Mulhall asked.
‘Not too bad,’ Hennessy said. ‘I’ve landed a bit of a watching job. Three nights a week.’
‘You’re a great man at the watching.’
‘I’ve a natural gift for it,’ Hennessy said. Then he added: ‘I suppose you all heard about Rashers and his stroke of fortune?’
‘What was that?’
‘He swears he owes it all to yourself, ma’am.’
Mary, finding the voice directed at her, put down the cup of sugar.
‘The night of poor Hanlon’s funeral he showed the two of you the way to the presbytery and on the road out he dropped in to say a few prayers. He met the curate and landed the boilerman’s job. Ten bob a week. Wasn’t that a stroke of good fortune?’
‘It’s only seasonal,’ Joe said.
‘It’ll keep him going through the winter.’
‘Ten bob is a scab rate,’ Pat said, with disgust.
Mary said: ‘The curate is Father O’Connor. I knew him in Kingstown.’
‘Is that a fact?’ Hennessy said, happy to gather a further piece of information.
Pat, with obvious satisfaction, remarked: ‘St. Brigid’s must be a bit of a change for him.’
‘It was his own wish to work here,’ Mary said.
‘Imagine that now.’ Hennessy was greatly impressed.
‘Only a saintly soul would make such a change,’ Mrs. Mulhall said.
‘Every man to his taste,’ Pat said.
Hennessy noted there was full and plenty and lingered. He accepted a second drink and agreed to sing a song. Later he recited a ballad about a young man who gambled away his inheritance and died all alone in the Australian bush, where he was found with a locket in his hand containing a lock of golden hair. Was it his own, a relic of the lost innocence of his childhood or had it been cut from a sweetheart’s golden hair before sin sullied the hopes of youth? Or was it, perhaps, a sweet mother’s tresses, carried to the ends of the earth by an erring son and fondled with remorse when Death laid its chill hand on his brow? The poet was unable to say and Hennessy, having posed the question and moved everybody by the light, nasal style of his recital, let his eye rest on the cup of sugar and suddenly remembered his wife.
‘She’ll think I’m lost,’ he said, springing to his feet.
‘That’s the greatest oddity in Dublin,’ Mulhall remarked.
‘He has the gift, mind you,’ Joe said. The rest had been equally impressed and agreed with him.
Mrs. Mulhall, thinking of the peaky face with its short moustache and small chin, and the far-away look in the eyes during the recital, sighed and said: ‘The poor soul.’
‘I think it’s time we all went,’ Farrell suggested. He had a long walk home before him and a six o’clock start the next morning.
‘That’s a thought,’ Joe said.
They gathered their belongings and began to renew their wishes for happiness and good fortune. They were halfway down the stairs when Mary, who had gone back into the room to tidy up, noticed the parcel in the corner and called to Fitz.
Fitz shouted down the stairs: ‘Pat—your parcel.’
‘Never mind it.’
‘You’ve left it behind you.’
Pat returned a little from the rest and said: It’s for herself—a bit of a wedding present. There’s no need to waken the house over it.’ He was gruff and embarrassed.
‘Did you rob a bank or something?’ Fitz said, smiling.
‘Never mind what I robbed,’ Pat said. He turned and went down to join the rest.
‘Thanks,’ Fitz shouted after him, but he got no reply and went in and closed the door.
Mary was still tidying. Already, he noticed, she had given the room a touch of home.
‘What was ninepence an hour?’ she asked, working busily.
‘I told you about it. The job I called Farrell for.’
‘The night I was asleep and you didn’t waken me?’
Something had happened to him that night that had nothing to do with their love. He remembered the sharp morning wind and, far off, the shouts of the men. Isolated in the top gallery of the house, just before the water pipes rattled into life, he had felt the inward drag of compassion and responsibility, linking him with the others below. Some part of him had become theirs. It was a moment he had no way of explaining to anybody, not even to Mary. He said, ‘It may mean trouble for us.’
‘But it’s so long ago.’
‘So far we’ve been able to keep going at the foundry by drawing from stock. But if the carters don’t deliver to us soon we’ll have to close down. And if non-union men deliver to us we’ll have to refuse to handle the coal.’
‘Maybe they’ll give in and pay them.’
‘That’s what we’re hoping for.’
She had finished her work and was removing her apron. He remembered.
‘The parcel Pat left is a wedding present.’ He took it from the corner and put it on the table. It was heavy. He unwrapped it. It was a marble clock, with the figure of a wolfhound on either side. The gilt on the hands had worn thin in places, but when they wound it and moved the hands it had a low, musical chime.
‘It’s lovely,’ Mary said. They set it on the mantelpiece and stood back to admire it.
It’s a bit on the elegant side for the rest of the room,’ Fitz said.
‘It’s beautiful.’ Her pleasure touched Fitz.
‘That’s two beautiful things to look at every day,’ he said.
‘I’m sure he spent a fortune on it, it’s too much to give.’
‘In a way it’s just as well,’ Fitz said, ‘he’ll have less to act the tin elephant with.’
‘Does he never try to save?’
‘He’d rather give it away.’
‘You have generous friends,’ Mary said. She stood back to look at it once more.
‘Let me hear it chime again,’ she asked.
Fitz moved the hands and the clock responded.
‘It has a happy sound,’ she pronounced.
Fitz took the lamp and they went into the bedroom together. They undressed. Everything had gone well: the ceremony, the breakfast, the afternoon expedition around Howth Head, the customary wedding party. They lay together in the darkness, two lovers in a dilapidated world, knowing each other for the first time. They were near enough to the river to hear, faintly, the siren of a ship. The city grew quiet. Before they slept the clock in the outer room chimed once again.
‘Listen to it,’ Mary whispered.
They listened together. Fitz covered her mouth with his. They forgot the clock and the plaintive siren and the house which was peopled above and below them.
Pat left the rest at Ringsend Bridge and watched them go down past the Catholic church. Its back wall overhung the Dodder. From the bridge he saw the masts of the sailing ships that lay close against the church. They had a derelict look. The water about them gleamed faintly, gathering what light reached it from the few, scattered stars. The stars had a misty look of imminent rain. Under the great hump of the bridge the river, already swollen, moved towards the intricate system of docks and canals which would conduct it deviously to the Liffey and so to the sea. The breeze carried the taint of salt water, a forlorn smell.
As he walked back towards the city the rain began. It was late. The last trams were arriving at Ringsend Depot. They swung into the sheds with a great rattling and clanging, with trolleys that hissed and sparked as they crossed the wire intersections. They left a taste of metal in the street. Machinery vibrated behind the grey walls of Boland’s Mills, and the little, lighted cabin of the overhead telpher made a blurred circle above the foundry yard before it disappeared into the awning of one of the furnace houses. Pat turned into Townsend Street and crossed Butt Bridge. The rain began to seep through his clothes. He had been sharing with Fritz and had neglected to make provision for a bed now that the arrangement had come to an end. But he was contented with drink. He knew what he was going to do.
In the shelter of Amiens Street Bridge he uncorked a bottle of whiskey, drank and went on. The streets were badly surfaced. Already muddy pools were beginning to form. There were lights in occasional windows and once he heard a piano playing
‘For in his bloom
He met his doom
Tim Kelly’s early grave.’
A policeman with his cloak fully buttoned and the great collar covering his ears turned to stare at him as he passed. Pat went on, changing the song.
‘O girl of my heart you are waiting for me
Mora, my own love
Mora, my true love
Will you be mine through the long years to be?’
He turned into a narrower, muddier street and climbed the stairs, still singing, his boots and his voice making a rowdy din. Someone jerked open a door.
‘I thought so,’ Lily Maxwell cried.
‘Lily, my own.’
‘Come in out of that,’ she grumbled at him.
‘Lily, my true love.’
‘Do you want to bring the whole bloody Metropolitan Constabulary in on top of me?’ she shouted at him.
Pat held out his arms to her and begged, ‘Will you be mine through the long years to be?’
She pushed him in and closed the door.
‘Will you look at the cut of him?’ she said, appealing to one of the pictures on the wall.
Water was running from his hat. His coat was sodden and shapeless. She took it off him. She sat him down at the fire. Lily’s room was small. An enormous iron bed with brass fittings took up most of the floor space. The fireplace, which was deep, was well filled with glowing coals, in spite of the general shortage. Lily had friends among the humble. Intimate garments were scattered haphazardly, as though Lily had been unable to make up her mind about what she was going to wear and had given it up.
‘I was at a wedding,’ Pat explained.
‘You needn’t tell me. I can smell the confetti,’ Lily said.
‘We’ll have a drink.’
‘Not any of mine, you won’t,’ Lily assured him, ‘it’s strictly for the paying guests.’
Pat produced the bottle of whiskey.
‘Out of this, Lily my own love.’
She took it. ‘Where did you find it?’
‘I bought it.’
Lily looked astounded. ‘There’ll be a blue moon tomorrow night.’
‘Will you pour the drink and not have so much bloody oul guff,’ Pat said.
The steam was rising from his trousers.
‘Take them off you,’ Lily advised.
‘Don’t be impatient.’
‘You’re full of smart answers, wherever you were.’
‘I told you, I was at a wedding.’
‘I suppose they gave you this to get shut of you,’ she said, taking the cork from the bottle.
‘You never say anything agreeable to me,’ Pat complained. ‘All the time you keep nagging.’
He was taking off his trousers.
‘Here,’ she said, throwing him a towel. He began to dry his legs.
‘Nag, nag, nag.’
‘For all the good it does. Just look at you.’
She hung his wet trousers near the fire and handed him a drink.
‘You’re not bad, after all,’ he said, sampling the whiskey. ‘How is business?’
‘Bloody terrible,’ Lily said. ‘How would you expect it to be of an Easter Tuesday. They’re all after making their Easter duty. Finishing up their retreats and mending their souls.’
‘What about the Protestants?’
‘It seems this is a Roman Catholic area.’
‘On leave. Or blew it all of an Easter Monday.’
‘And the students?’
‘They only come to be seen, most of them.’
‘Lily—you shouldn’t be in this game. I told you so.’
‘Maisie persuaded me there would be good money in it. She exaggerates a bit, the same Maisie.’
‘Then don’t settle to it. Get out of it.’
‘Back to what? To making biscuits or something for five bob a week? I had enough of that, thank you.’
‘You’d be happier.’
‘I wasn’t any happier. I was bloody well miserable, if you want to know.’
She consoled herself with a long slug of whiskey. She was sitting opposite to him at the fire, a thin, dark-haired girl with a slight figure. She had small features and neat hands that Pat liked to touch. His own had broken nails from humping sacks and coal-dirt which had settled permanently in the pores. She got up and began to twist the ends of his trousers. A stream of water fell from them.
‘You’ll wind up with pneumonia,’ she said.
‘I have money, Lily.’
‘That’s two blue moons tomorrow.’
‘The horses,’ Pat said. ‘Give me another drink and I’ll tell you about it.’
‘I can’t wait,’ Lily said. But she gave him the drink. While she squeezed his trousers she said to him: ‘Are you not staying?’
He had been about to tell her the story of his luck. Her remark surprised him.
‘What do you mean?’
‘You could take off your hat,’ she said. He groped and was surprised to find it poised on the back of his head. He dropped it at his feet.
‘I brought off a sixpenny treble at Fairyhouse: Axle Pin at sevens in the Farmers Plate, Lord Rivers in the Irish National at tens and all on to Little Hack the Second in the King’s Cup. He came up at sevens.’
‘What did you make?’
‘Fifteen pounds eight shillings,’ Pat said.
‘Out of sixpence?’ Lily asked.
‘Out of a little crooked sixpence,’ Pat said. He found it hard to believe himself. He held his glass up in front of him and nodded his head at it several times.
‘What have you left?’ Lily asked.
‘Count it,’ Pat invited. ‘It’s in my back pocket.’ She took the trousers down and emptied the contents on to the table.
‘I declare to God!’ she exclaimed. She counted eight pounds and some odd shillings.
‘What happened to the rest?’
‘I bought a wedding present for five pounds. A clock.’
‘You should have your head examined with what’s left,’ Lily said, outraged.
‘It was for a friend,’ Pat said.
‘Who’s the friend?’
‘Bob Fitzpatrick. They were married this morning and after breakfast they went out to Howth.’
A thought struck him.
‘Were you ever in Howth, Lily?’
‘What would I be doing in Howth,’ Lily answered.
‘It’s a beautiful place. It sticks right out into the sea. You can see the whole Bay from the cliffs, and the Dublin mountains all around it.’
‘I was there once or twice,’ Lily said. ‘The cliffs made me dizzy.’
‘Then the gardens,’ Pat said, ‘with the dandderodents, the rhodadandins . . . what the hell do you call them . . . the flowers.’
‘I’ve seen them,’ Lily said, ‘but it must be years ago.’
‘Come with me tomorrow.’
‘Are you retiring from business?’
‘There may be a bit of a lock-out tomorrow.’
‘You’d better wait and see,’ Lily suggested sensibly.
‘Or the day after. Or the day after that again.’
‘Or next Christmas,’ Lily prompted. She saw he was full of drink.
‘I’ll tell you what,’ Pat said, ‘hold four pounds out of that for me and we’ll go to Howth next Sunday.’
Lily took the four pounds.
‘I’ll keep it for you,’ she said.
‘If you have to spend some of it it’s all right. Give me another drink.’
‘You’re crooked already.’ But she poured it.
‘I’ve no bed for tonight.’
‘You can stay here. But no monkey business.’
‘You don’t love me any more,’ Pat accused.
‘I don’t love anyone any more,’ Lily said, suddenly weary. ‘I feel bloody awful.’
‘Have another drink.’
‘Two is enough. Any more kills me.’
This was unusual. Pat looked at her unbelievingly. Then he shrugged and said: ‘Please yourself.’ He began to take his own. The heat of the fire helped the effect of the alcohol. Lily was sitting opposite again. He was becoming drowsy and found it hard to keep her in focus. They had grown up together, played together, found out the usual things together. The boys liked Lily. She wandered around with them and when they dared her she stood on her hands for them. The boys shouted ‘I see Paris’ when her bloomers showed and the other girls tried to be scandalised. They both came from a world where very little ever remained to be known after the age of twelve or thirteen.
‘What’s the strike?’ Lily asked.
‘For a proper rate—three shillings.’
‘Three shillings a week?’
‘No—three shillings they owe us for overtime.’
‘A strike for three shillings?’
‘It takes a lot of principle to fill a pint,’ Lily said.
‘You never think of the world you live in, Lily,’ Pat said, ‘that’s what’s wrong with you.’
‘I know what’s wrong with me,’ Lily said, ‘but it isn’t that.’
‘You never ask yourself why the poor are poor. You see the quality going off to balls at the Castle and receptions in the Park. Will Lily Maxwell ever do that?’
‘I’d look well, wouldn’t I?’
‘You’d look as well as the next and better if you had their advantages.’
‘That’s the way God made the world,’ Lily said. ‘You’d better lodge your objections with Him, not with me. I have my own troubles.’
‘All that is going to be changed. We’ll have a revolution about that.’
Pat’s eyes were closing. Lily, watching the drunkenness slowly mastering his body and his thoughts, felt affection for him and asked: ‘Had you any definite date in mind?’
He opened his eyes and was puzzled. ‘What date?’
‘For all the changing you’re going to do.’
‘They’re going to lock us out. That’ll be a start.’
‘But no novelty,’ Lily said, thinking of the other strikes.
‘It’ll be changed. The expropriators are to be expropriated. Did you ever listen to that Connolly chap?’
‘Come to think of it,’ Pat said, ‘I haven’t seen him around this past couple of years. He wanted votes for women. That’s something should interest you.’
‘What would I do with a vote?’ Lily asked.
‘Vote for the socialists. I’m a radical socialist. I believe we should hold everything in common, even our women.’
‘Is your friend Fitzpatrick a socialist?’
‘Fitz is all right. He’s going to stand by us.’
‘For your three shillings? He must be as mad as the rest of you.’
‘He’s the heart of the roll—the flower of the flock.’
‘Try holding his woman in common and see what happens,’ Lily invited. ‘God, that’s an explosion I’d love to watch!’
‘Give me another drink,’ Pat said.
‘If you go to bed,’ she promised.
He was agreeable. She helped him to undress. When he had stretched out beneath the covers she made an elaborate show of pouring whiskey into a glass. But she kept it in her hand while she sat at the bedside and made no move to give it to him.
‘It’s a bitch of a city, Lily,’ he said to her.
‘It’s no great shakes,’ Lily agreed.
‘More babies die in Dublin than anywhere else in Europe—did you know that, Lily?’
‘All babies die,’ Lily said, ‘when they reach the right age.’
‘More men and women too. Does the Lord Lieutenant care? No. Does the Government? Do the employers? Does God?’
‘I’d leave Him out of it,’ Lily said.
‘All right. Leave Him out of it. Do the others?’
‘You should go asleep.’
‘If you get in beside me.’
‘I told you there’s something wrong with me.’ She half shouted it at him.
‘Where’s my drink?’
‘I have it here for you.’ But she kept it in her hand.
‘Take Lord Aberdeen. Does he care?’
‘I’ll ask him the next time I bump into him,’ Lily said.
‘You haven’t got into bed, Lily.’
‘Take your hour, can’t you.’
She was watching him, watching the sleep stealing over and through him. She was reckoning the moment of its victory. His speech became thick and blurred.
‘We’re going to tear it all down,’ he said, ‘tear it all down. Like that.’
He tried to make a descriptive movement with his hands. They barely stirred. Lily looked at him for some time with lonely affection. She said: ‘You couldn’t tear down wallpaper.’ He was asleep. The stupor had won. He lay stretched with his mouth wide open. She drew the covers to his chin and bowed her head against the bulk of his body.
‘Jesus help me,’ she whispered. ‘Jesus help me.’ She was crying.
Mr. Doggett, of Doggett & Co., found himself with a problem. A letter, signed by James Larkin, Irish Organiser of the National Union of Dockers, warned him that if he instructed his carters to deliver coal to Morgan’s Foundry there would be a strike. A letter from Morgan & Co. demanded delivery immediately and warned him that the long-standing contract which he shared with Nolan & Keyes would be cancelled and given solely to Nolan & Keyes, if supplies were not despatched. He rightly guessed that his rivals had received a similar letter but had no way of finding out what they intended to do. He had no desire to face a strike. He had no desire either to lose the contract. It was a situation which kept his thoughts fully occupied. It was obvious that Nolan & Keyes shared his dilemma. For some weeks neither accepted the challenge by attempting delivery.
The situation troubled Timothy Keever too, but for a different reason. He worked for Nolan & Keyes and felt there was a moral issue. He decided to put it before Father O’Connor. His opportunity arose when the priest visited him as part of his parish work. Mrs. Keever spent more than she could afford in entertaining him to tea. After the meal Keever brought Father O’Connor into the yard at the back of the cottage to show him the shrine to St. Finbar he had built in his spare time. Father O’Connor seemed impressed.
‘Very beautiful,’ he said.
The shrine occupied the right-hand angle of the back and side walls. The statue was a small one, the tiny grass plot in front accommodated three jamjars with artificial flowers. Keever had distempered the wall behind in yellow and white and had contrived a kneeling board out of a packing case.
‘Maybe you’d say a prayer,’ Keever invited, diffidently.
The idea of kneeling in such surroundings horrified Father O’Connor. Tea with the Keevers, in itself, had been something of an ordeal.
‘Later, perhaps,’ he evaded.
The rest of the yard he noted, was occupied by a manhole cover and the pathway to the outdoor toilet. There was a large box.
‘What is this?’ Father O’Connor asked. It was an alternative topic to the shrine.
It’s for the dog,’ Keever explained. ‘He keeps the cats away. Especially at night.’
‘Ah,’ Father O’Connor said.
The back wall, which was enormously high, puzzled him, until he recognised it as part of the railway embankment. The railway line seemed to be everywhere in the parish of St. Brigid.
‘You have a comfortable home,’ Father O’Connor said. He was not quite sure, now that he had seen the shrine, what was expected of him next.
‘It was my father’s home,’ Keever said, ‘he was a carpenter.’
‘In his time he was senior prefect.’
There was a strong tradition in favour of the skilled worker in parish activities.
‘Isn’t our present senior prefect a carpenter too?’
‘No, Father, Mr. Hegarty is a bricklayer.’
‘Of course,’ Father O’Connor said.
‘My own father intended me for a trade,’ Keever explained, ‘but God took him at an early age, so I became a carter. In fact I’m in a difficulty at the moment that Mr. Hegarty told me to ask your advice on.’
‘By all means,’ Father O’Connor agreed. He examined the box, found there was no dog present and sat down on it.
While Keever explained the situation in Nolan & Keyes Father O’Connor listened with half a mind. The man before him was, he thought, a model of what the Christian worker should be, accepting his social position with humility and making up for his lack of formal education by his persistence in good works of various kinds. He collected used stamps for the missions from the office staff of Nolan & Keyes and went among the carters on paydays gathering halfpennies for the same purpose. He carried a notebook in which he recorded each subscription as he received it and he handed over the total to Father O’Connor each week. He was constantly seeking recruits for the Church sodality among the men with whom he worked.
‘You are being asked,’ Father O’Connor summarised when he had finished, ‘to refuse your own employer’s instructions in order to force a point against another employer?’
‘That’s what I’m being asked, Father.’
‘And you’ve no grievance against your own employer?’
‘None at all, Father.’
‘It seems to me,’ Father O’Connor said, ‘there can be no moral justification whatever for injuring your own employer in his business because of the supposed shortcomings of some other employer.’
‘That’s how Mr. Hegarty put it.’
‘Mr. Hegarty is perfectly right.’
‘You’ve taken a weight off my mind, Father,’ Keever assured him. He turned again to the statue of St. Finbar, then looked questioningly at Father O’Connor, who hesitated. The shrine and the kneeling board were obviously sources of deep pride. Father O’Connor crossed himself. Despite the dog box, the outdoor toilet, the monstrous, grimy wall, he attempted to pray. He would have liked to gratify Keever’s wish, but the thought of kneeling defeated his will. He crossed himself but remained standing. After a while he crossed himself again and followed Keever back into the kitchen, consoling himself with the thought that at least he was visiting in his parish, and ministering in foul rooms compared with which Keever’s kitchen was a palace. As they went in, a train passed with such a thunderous commotion that the yard and its contents shuddered and seemed to hover on the brink of disintegration.
They had a glass of plain porter each in Mulligan’s snug. It was almost noon. Sunlight caught the edge of the table. The wood was worn. Near where Lily’s glass rested someone had tried to carve initials but they were indecipherable.
‘You shouldn’t have come into this business, love,’ Maisie said. ‘You haven’t the temperament.’
‘I know that now,’ Lily confessed.
‘And this fellow I was talking about,’ Maisie said. ‘Mind you, it’s not everybody he’ll take on, because he’s afraid of gossip. But I think I could persuade him to see you.’
‘Three pounds is a lot of money.’
‘Three guineas, sweetheart, he’s still got his professional pride.’
‘Maybe it isn’t It at all.’
‘Maybe it is. Do you want your teeth going bad and your nice hair . . .’
‘Shut up, for Jaysus’ sake.’
Lily moved her glass until it covered the indecipherable initials.
‘I’m near distracted, Maisie.’
Maisie drained her drink and punched the bell behind her.
‘You don’t want to go to the Locke, do you, with all the ditch-and-doorway element?’
‘God forbid,’ Lily said.
‘‘How are you for money?’
‘Desperate, but I’ve four quid . . .’
‘I wouldn’t call that very desperate,’ Maisie said.
‘ . . . which isn’t mine.’
‘Matter-a-damn who’s it is.’
‘I’m minding it for a fella.’
‘Get yourself looked after, girl.’
A panel opened and a man acknowledged Maisie’s gesture by inclining his bald dome at them. They both waited. He returned and placed two more glasses on the ledge. Maisie paid him and took the drinks to the table.
‘Well . . . ?’ she said to Lily.
‘Give me the address.’
‘That’s the ticket.’ Maisie beamed with relief. ‘He never qualified because of the drink and he’ll have a booze with your three guineas as soon as you leave him. But he won’t let you down if treatment is wanted.’
‘I hope to God he’s good.’
‘Liz and Agnes Benson swear by him. And many another.’
Maisie rooted in her handbag. She found a pencil, but neither of them had a piece of paper.
‘To hell with it,’ Maisie said, ‘I’ll bring you to him myself.’
‘You’re an angel,’ Lily said. ‘When?’
They both drank.
‘Here’s hoping,’ Maisie said, smiling encouragement. There was no need to name the hope. Lily remained subdued.
‘I’m sorry about this chap’s four pounds,’ she explained. ‘He’s not a customer, he’s a friend.’
Maisie said she was a queer girl.
The news that Nolan & Keyes had made up their minds to attempt delivery to Morgan & Co. reached Doggett through channels of his own. He had no option but to act himself. The men he employed knew of his presence almost as soon as they reported for work. They, too, had their own channels.
‘Doggett’s up above’ the nearest carter whispered to Mulhall. They both interrupted yoking-up to look at the window of the superintendent’s office. It was long and overlooked the yard. The early-morning air, pungent and misty, forecast an uncertain day.
‘It’s not the weather brought him down so early,’ Mulhall said.
To Doggett, who was looking down at the activity in the marshalling yard, they were two men among a score or so of others. He smoked and watched.
‘You’ve instructed the foreman?’ Doggett asked.
‘I have, sir. They get the dockets as they pass the scales.’
The superintendent was nervous.
‘All the dockets are for Morgan & Co?’
‘All the one destination, sir.’
‘That’s the idea,’ Doggett said. ‘No word yet of the situation at Nolan & Keyes?’
‘Not yet, sir.’
Doggett moved nearer to the window. He said, conversationally, ‘We’ve been busy, you know—very busy.’
‘It’ll slacken soon, with the summer coming on, sir.’
‘Seasonal. Still, I anticipate we’ll do better than average.’
‘I hope so, sir.’
‘We all hope so,’ Mr. Doggett said. He was watching each move below him, his mind working coolly. He saw the carts loaded and the marshalling procedure beginning.
Mulhall lay about twelfth in line. He lit his pipe and spat from his plank seat. He kept his eyes on the men nearer the scales. They had agreed, but they might break just the same. It would be a new kind of strike, if it came off. The first man drove on to the scales and waited while the clerk weighed. He accepted the destination docket, read it carefully and put it in his pocket. Doggett, his hands behind his back, watched from the window. This, he knew, was the crucial moment. The line of carters watched too. The leading carter drove clear of the scales and towards the gate. Everybody wondered. They saw him rein in as he approached the gate, which was narrow. Then he gave a check to the reins. While still in the yard the horse and cart swung to the right of the gate and the carter dismounted. The second carter did likewise but more decisively. So did the rest, until the whole line was at a standstill and the cart in front left no room to cross the scales. Mulhall, seeing the foreman going over to the men, left down his reins and went to them also. He took the delivery docket from one of the men who had crossed the scales, read it and signalled to the others. They dismounted, some with a leap, some clambering down laboriously or reluctantly. Doggett saw them forming into a circle for consultation. Some time later the foreman reported to the superintendent in the outer office, who brought the decision to Doggett.
‘They refuse to deliver to Morgan & Co., sir.’ Mr. Doggett had already discussed the prodecure with him.
‘Very well,’ he instructed, ‘re-consign everything as we prepared it. And try to find out what the situation is in Nolan & Keyes.’
‘It’ll take some time, sir. Where can I contact you?’
‘Right here,’ Doggett said in a tone which made the superintendent jerk nervously. Before he moved away from the window he saw the men being despatched one by one to the alternative destinations. It took time, because their loads had to be adjusted. But it was accomplished without a hitch.
Nolan & Keyes reported a split. At first the refusal seemed unanimous, but after bickering and argument Timothy Keever, fortified by Father O’Connor’s advice, followed his conscience and persuaded some of the others that he was right. They delivered to the foundry. The rest of the men in Nolan & Keyes persisted in their refusal. They were locked out. Doggett took the news coolly, although it placed him in an extremely dangerous position. If word got out to Morgan’s that he had given in to the carters’ threat and that Nolan & Keyes had stood firm his contract would be in danger. But he had laid his plans. Now that Nolan & Keyes had attempted delivery there was only one safe course open.
‘Work out an afternoon consignment for Morgan’s,’ he told the superintendent. ‘Supervise the loading personally and lockout immediately if we have a second refusal.’
There was a chance, Doggett felt, that the men might weaken under the pressure of a renewed instruction. Meanwhile there was another precaution to be taken, in case the news that he had surrendered early that morning got about.
‘I’ve forgotten the yard foreman’s name.
‘Please send him to me.’
The foreman was a small man in his fifties. Coal grime had settled permanently in the pores of his face. A black sweat beaded his forehead and streaked his temples.
‘That’s right, sir.’
‘The men refused your instructions this morning?’
‘They did, sir. They said they were standing by Larkin’s agreement.’
‘Are you a member of that gentleman’s organisation?’
‘Do you know anything about it?’
‘Only what I hear the men saying, from time to time.’
‘It’s the National Union of Dockers, sir. Mr. Sexton is general secretary but Mr. Larkin is Irish organiser. Sexton doesn’t like him. He won’t recognise the strikes engineered by Mr. Larkin and he may stop strike pay.’
‘How do they propose to finance themselves?’
‘They’ll collect around the docks and all over the country. Larkin is collecting in Cork at present.’
‘You know quite a lot about Mr. Larkin.’
‘Only what I hear, sir. The men have a good deal of talk about him.’
‘Too much, it appears,’ Doggett said. He rose and left the desk.
‘How long are you with us?’
‘About thirty years, sir—since Mr. Waterville’s time.’
‘How long have you been yard foreman?’
‘Fifteen years, sir.’
‘Fifteen years is a long time.’
‘It is, sir.’ O’Connor’s face betrayed a moment’s pleasure.
‘Long enough,’ Doggett continued, ‘to have learned the art of handling men in.’
O’Connor hesitated. Doggett’s tone had changed suddenly. He became confused.
‘It isn’t easy these days, sir, with so much agitation going on.’
‘We had evidence of that this morning, hadn’t we?’
‘That’s all for the moment,’ Doggett said. He called the superintendent.
‘I have been speaking to O’Connor.’
Doggett looked steadily at the superintendent.
‘O’Connor is unsatisfactory,’ he said, ‘pay him off this evening.’
The superintendent took a little while to grasp what was meant.
‘Yes. I expect my foremen to be competent.’
The next day the men in the foundry, standing by their promise, refused to handle the coal that had been delivered by Keever and his followers. The Board met briefly to decide to lock out. Only Yearling expressed hesitation.
‘Our insistence hasn’t done much good, has it?’ he remarked.
‘What do you suggest?’ the chairman asked.
It was a question Yearling had answered over and over again. Now he merely shrugged.
‘We have no option,’ the chairman insisted, ‘unless we are prepared to encourage anarchy.’
‘I thought Doggett might fail us,’ someone said. ‘He’s been trick-o’-the-looping.’
‘Not this time,’ the chairman said.
‘He diverted the first load, I’ve been told.’
‘There is an explanation,’ the chairman answered. ‘He had trouble with a foreman. It appears the fellow was in the pay of Larkin and diverted the load on his own initiative. Doggett tells me he has dismissed him.’
‘The only medicine,’ someone approved. ‘Good for Doggett.’
In May the carters of Nolan & Keyes and of Doggett & Co. were joined by all the other carters of the city who went on strike against the masters’ rejection of a general wage demand. New pickets appeared. The coal-carrying trade came to a standstill. Father O’Connor paid off Rashers and closed down the boiler-house for the summer. He wondered if his advice to Keever had been responsible, however indirectly, for closing down the foundry. Whenever he passed a picket throughout the months of June and July the thought came freshly into his mind. He had spoken with a conscientious regard for justice, yet there was another side to it that troubled him, something in the faces of the men: tiredness, the dark lines of hunger, the way they saluted him and the speculative look with which their eyes regarded him as he passed. When he went the rounds of his parish there were hungry children in the strikers’ homes. Poverty might disgust him, but that was some uncontrollable reaction in himself. It was not that he had lost his pity for it.
‘Do you think they would have locked out if all of you had refused delivery?’ he asked Keever.
‘I don’t know, Father. They didn’t at first in Doggett’s.’
‘I see,’ Father O’Connor said.
‘The men are blaming me.’
‘You must tell them . . .’ Father O’Connor began. He had been about to add ‘that Father O’Connor advised you.’ But he had second thoughts. The Church had its own work. He must keep clear of conflicts in a world he did not altogether understand. He had been asked for a moral judgment. He had given it. The rest was not his business.
‘Tell them the Christian workman must at all times acknowledge certain principles to be above the claims of man-made organizations.’
Keever decided not to mention that he had already done so. He had been told what to do with his principles. It hurt him but had no persuasive effect whatever. Finding no outlet for ambition or reason for hope on earth, Keever had long ago fixed heaven with acquisitive and unflinching eyes.
‘At the same time we have a duty to help the wives and children,’ Father O’Connor said. ‘I want you to make a list of families for me—not more than ten for a start—whom you think are most in need of relief. You and Mr. Hegarty and the members of the Confraternity Committee can make up some food parcels for distribution.’
‘I’ll do that, Father.’
Father O’Connor thought Keever looked uneasy.
‘Do you not agree?’
‘Certainly, Father, of course,’ Keever said.
‘Very well. Let me have the list as soon as you can.’
There was a large press in Father O’Connor’s bedroom, which was quite empty. He decided that tins of cocoa would be easiest to store and more nourishing than tea. Sugar and tins of milk would be no problem. He ordered these in quantity. While he was at it he decided to stock in some blankets. They would be cheaper now that summer was coming and could be held against the winter. He found room for these in the press also. Drawing the money by cheque, visiting shops, consulting with the two prefects, kept him busy and contented. They spent three evenings in the room behind the vestry making up parcels. Each contained a packet of flour, a tin of cocoa and a tin of milk. It was good to work so humbly for others.
The rumours of disagreement between Sexton and Larkin persisted. Fitz was certain that sooner or later the Liverpool Executive would stop their strike pay.
‘Isn’t Larkin collecting in Cork?’ Joe pointed out.
‘I’d feel happier with a little cash in reserve, just the same,’ Fitz said.
They were resting on a piece of waste ground near the river, a favourite site for games of pitch and toss. Nettles and weeds wrestled for possession of the few feet of soil. A mane of grass, reaching upwards through the broken bottom of an upturned bucket, had the gloss of health.
‘If you need it badly I can lay hands on a couple of pounds for you,’ Pat offered.
‘The fancy woman,’ Joe put in.
‘It’s my own money,’ Pat added, ignoring him. ‘She’s minding four pounds for me.’
Joe looked up at the blue sky and joined his hands across his belly.
‘Minding it for him,’ he said, addressing his scepticism directly to God.
‘When do you want it?’ Pat asked Fitz.
Joe remained in isolated communion with the Powers above him.
‘There’s no great hurry,’ Fitz said.
The Angelus bell sounded from a nearby church. When they had taken off their hats and crossed themselves Joe asked:
‘Did you hear it was the curate in St. Brigid’s advised Keever to carry on?’
‘I didn’t hear that,’ Fitz admitted.
‘We’re a priest-ridden race,’ Pat declared, ‘but we’ll get rid of them.’
‘When?’ Joe asked.
‘When we organise and establish a Workers’ Republic.’
‘With Lily Maxwell in the chair.’
‘Leave Lily Maxwell alone.’
‘That’s what you should do,’ Joe said, goading him.
‘You’ll have your money tomorrow,’ Pat assured Fitz.
But though he tried throughout the week to find Lily she seemed to have disappeared. There was no answer when he knocked at her room. Maisie, when he met her, said she had no idea where Lily could be. He met her again and was told the same thing. The second time he got the impression that she was lying.
Chandlers Court looked out on the summer evenings and waited for whatever might choose to happen. There was a tension in the streets, a promise of action which seemed each day to be on the point of materialising, but which never did. The weather, mercifully, made heating unnecessary, but fires were still needed for cooking. In No. 3 a communal system helped the economy. They pooled their resources and took it in turns to use each other’s fireplace. Mary began to know the lives of those about her. The Mulhalls lived best. They had a table with a cover, good chairs, a dresser well stocked with crockery. Mrs. Mulhall was a woman who polished and scrubbed. The Bartleys below were clean people too, but the room was poorly equipped because Mr. Bartley never seemed to be able to find anything except casual work. The little boy at whose bed Father Giffley had watched some years before was now a messenger with one of the grocery shops. He earned half a crown a week, which helped to pay the rent. Most of all she hated going to the Hennessys, who were desperately poor. They drank out of tins and jamjars and spread covering on the floors at night for their numerous children.
The first ten families listed by Keever received their food parcels with gratitude. They were all, in one way or another, intimates of his. With the second ten he ran into trouble. After an evening of successive calls he returned to Father O’Connor. Hegarty and he placed the parcels on the table.
‘What’s this?’ Father O’Connor asked.
‘We had trouble,’ Keever said.
‘They refused to take the parcels,’ Hegarty explained.
‘They refused . . .’
‘They called me a scab,’ Keever said.
‘And they didn’t leave your name altogether out of it either, Father,’ Hegarty added.
Father O’Connor flushed deeply. ‘All of them refused?’
‘Every one of them.’
‘In one of the houses they tried to empty water over us from the windows.’
‘Blackguardism,’ Father O’Connor said.
‘It’s Larkin and the union, Father. They’re boycotting Keever and myself.’
‘I see,’ Father O’Connor said. He had betrayed anger. That was a mistake. He should be calm. He should receive the information as though it was of no importance.
‘Well—leave the parcels back in the press. Tomorrow evening we’ll have a committee meeting.’
But the next evening only Keever and Hegarty and one very old man turned up.
‘If you’d send someone else with the parcels they’d take them,’ Keever suggested. He was humble. It would not matter to him.
‘Certainly not,’ Father O’Connor decided. ‘We are not going to be dictated to.’
The parcels remained in the press. He owed a duty to Keever. More important still, he owed a duty to himself. Or, rather, to his cloth and the Church which had been offered a blackguardly insult. It was an indication of the evil disposition which was gaining ground, even among the lowly and illiterate.
Rashers had his own campaign to fight in the daily battle to survive and he fought it with his own weapons. Circumstances were making it more than usually difficult. The city was either curtailing its charity in the belief that that would kill the new tendency among its lower orders to strike and perhaps do worse, or reserving its coppers for the collecting boxes of the locked-out men. It was a new partisanship which left no place for Rashers. The idea of cashing in on this sympathy occurred to him, and he got as far as painting the words ‘Help the Lock-Out’ on the side of a home-made box. But while he waited for the lettering to dry he changed his mind. It would be wrong, his conscience suggested, and he gave in to its reproaches. The idea of writing a ballad about the strikes seemed better and more honest. Hennessy found him sitting on the steps one afternoon, already at work on it. He had the first two lines on the back of a cigarette packet, but its composition was a laborious process. He welcomed the interruption.
‘Is Fitzpatrick above?’ Hennessy asked.
‘He went out about twenty minutes ago,’ Rashers said.
‘That’s most unfortunate,’ Hennessy remarked. The cigarette packet intrigued him.
‘What’s the writing about?’
‘It’s a ballad about the strike.’
Rashers handed him the packet. Hennessy, screwing up his eyes, read:
‘Come all ye gallant Dublin crew and listen to my song
Of working men and women too who fight the cruel wrong.’
‘What comes after that?’
‘Damn the bit of me knows,’ Rashers confessed, ‘it has me puckered.’
‘What are you going to do with it?’
‘Sing it at meetings and outside public houses.’
‘In the hope of making a few coppers?’
‘Not a chance now,’ Hennessy said.
‘The tide has gone out, oul skin. That’s why Mulhall sent me looking for Fitzpatrick.’ Hennessy handed back the cigarette packet.
‘The Liverpool Executive stopped the strike pay this morning.’
Fitz was already down at the committee rooms, where Mulhall had been waiting in the hope of seeing him. The doors were still closed and the crowd grew as they talked. Men who would not normally have come until later in the evening arrived early because the story of the stoppage of the relief money had spread from street to street. There were carters, shipping workers, a number of hands from factories that had become involved in the spread of the stoppages. The rumour went that there would be no money at all. Mulhall was more optimistic.
‘Larkin collected in Cork,’ he said, ‘and as well as that the committee built up a relief fund through the collection boxes. There’s bound to be something.’
‘It’ll want to be a lot,’ Fitz said, looking at the crowd, ‘to go anywhere among this mob.’
Joe joined them and after an hour Pat came along.
‘Trouble in our native land,’ he said.
‘The strike pay has been stopped,’ Fitz confirmed. There was still no sign of the doors being opened, so they moved over to the river wall. Down towards the sea, on the South Wall, cranes swivelled above ships.
‘It’s at times like this I wish I was a docker,’ Fitz said.
‘Or a sailor,’ Pat said. ‘Plenty of money and a wife in every port.’
Joe, who had been brooding about the matter on and off, saw his opportunity and said:
‘What about the four pounds you left with Lily Maxwell?’
Mulhall looked mildly curious. Fitz, glancing quickly at Pat’s face, knew that Joe had gone too far. It was one of those things which should never have been said.
‘I haven’t been able to see her,’ Pat said. Joe began to explain to Mulhall.
‘Imagine giving four pounds to mind to a . . .’
But Fitz, his tone sharp and violently angry, cut him short.
‘Give it a rest.’
Pat, who had been leaning on the wall, straightened and faced the three of them.
‘I promised Fitz two pounds of it and he’ll have it. I’ll pick her up.’
‘The girl might need it,’ Fitz said, ‘don’t go trailing her.’
He was sorry for Pat, whose face showed pain and humiliation.
‘There’s no question of trailing her,’ Pat said, ‘the girl never wronged me of a penny piece. You’ll have two pounds tonight.’
He left them abruptly. Mulhall looked after him and then asked: ‘What’s the matter with him?’
‘His sweetheart let him down,’ Joe said, beginning to laugh.
‘Give it over, I told you,’ Fitz said, rounding on him.
They went back to the hall and found it open, but the crowd outside seemed as dense as before. Someone Mulhall knew said: ‘They’re paying out inside.’
‘What’s the damage?’
‘It’s reduced to five bob.’
‘Better than nothing.’ Mulhall remarked. He began to elbow his way in. Fitz and Joe followed. Inside they produced their cards to the first man of three sitting at a table. With a shock Fitz realised that he was looking at Jim Larkin.
He was bigger than Fitz had imagined him and was smoking a black cheroot. The thumb of his left hand was stuck into the docker’s belt which he wore loosely about his waist. The man next to him made a quick entry in a book, the third man counted out five single shillings and handed them to Fitz, together with a printed notice which said:
‘Meeting This Evening At Parnell Square 5 p.m. sharp.
Jim Larkin Will Speak
Muster For Action
Unity Is Strength’
They reached the sunlight again.
‘It was Jim Larkin,’ Fitz said. The encounter had excited him. It was as though he had just seen personalised all the slogans and half-conceived ideas that had been the common currency of the past two months. Mulhall, more experienced in such matters, found it less remarkable.
‘How’s the time?’
‘I’ve no notion.’
They walked together towards the city centre to consult the public clocks. It was half past four. All three were more or less hungry, yet they passed the bread shops and walked across restaurant gratings and were unaware for the moment of their drifting odours.
‘What’s that about scabs arriving?’ Joe asked, looking again at the badly printed notice.
‘That’s more of their dirty play.’
‘They did it in Belfast, didn’t they?’ Mulhall reminded them.
They went on towards the square, where they found a few men with banners building a temporary platform against the ornamental railings. Four or five hundred men were spread about in loose groups, waiting. From the windows of Vaughan’s Hotel guests were watching curiously.
‘Anyone a cigarette?’ Fitz asked.
Men were still arriving and the scattered groups began to move forward into a mass. After a while Fitz found himself hemmed in on either side and then, quite suddenly it seemed, the pressure of people jammed his shoulder tight against Mulhall’s. He looked towards the platform and saw that Larkin had mounted it. He began to address them.
At first the accent was strange. Part Liverpool, part Irish, it produced immediate silence. The voice, flung back again from the high housefronts on the other side of the road, was the strongest Fitz had ever heard. From time to time the hands moved with an eloquence of their own. The strike pay had been withdrawn, he was saying, because the British Executive were indifferent to the sufferings of people in Dublin. For two months they had given them half-hearted support and now, the fight was proving too big. The Executive were afraid. It was laughable, he said, that trade union leaders with the broad waters of the Irish Sea between them and the field of action should be afraid, while the Dublin trade unionists were still full of courage and fighting fit. If they intended to withhold strike pay why was it not done at the beginning, before men had sacrificed themselves and their families throughout two long and bitter months?
They answered with a cheer. Fitz found himself joining in. He saw Larkin’s hand upheld for silence and stopped. They were going to carry on, Larkin continued, with or without money. A sum had been collected which would keep them going for a while. The weekly payment would be even less than in the past, but they must see themselves as soldiers in the field, holding a position against odds, surrounded and cut off and ready to continue on short rations. He had information that a shipload of free labourers would arrive at the South Wall that evening. The answer to that would be to call out the dockers. He intended to address meetings on the South and the North Wall and hoped to bring work there to a standstill. In that way they would close the port of Dublin. The Government might then take a hand in persuading the employers to see reason.
The meeting lasted almost an hour. At the end of it Fitz found himself in a column of marching men, headed by Larkin. As they rounded the corner of Parnell Square he looked back. A few hundred men in ranks of four stretched behind. They passed the Rotunda and met the first heavy traffic. Horse-drawn cabs pulled in to one side, trams came to a standstill, people on the footpaths stood to stare. After two months of doubt and idleness to have control of a city street, however briefly, was an exhilarating experience. They strode out strongly, turning left before crossing O’Connell Bridge. They found the approach to the North Quays blocked by a cordon of police in plenty of time to swing confidently to the right and across Butt Bridge, then left again along the approach to the south bank of the river. As they passed the closed gates of the marshalling yards men who had worked in them before the strike cheered derisively. Mulhall pointed out Doggett & Co. to Fitz. The gate was red and the firm’s name stood out on it in white painted letters. About two hundred yards below that they came to a second cordon of police and halted. At a distance behind the police the first gang of dockers were unloading and behind that they could see the masts of ships that were lying to and crane arms swinging backwards and forwards against the skyline.
The police inspector stepped forward and Larkin went over on his own to meet him. In the centre of the few yards of dockside dividing the police from the strikers they parleyed for some minutes. The police were about sixty strong and the strikers, Fitz knew, had drawn too close. Anything would spark off a clash.
‘They won’t let us through,’ Mulhall predicted, while they waited.
‘Not a hope,’ Fitz said.
‘We could burst our way through,’ Joe said.
‘I’m on.’ Mulhall agreed.
‘Better wait and see what Larkin wants to do,’ Fitz advised.
The pressure of body against body in the crowd behind him generated an excitement of itself which was already reckless and dangerous. The police inspector rejoined his column and Larkin returned. For a while nothing happened. Then the police, turning about, withdrew some yards and about-faced again. This time they drew their batons. Larkin pushed through the ranks of the strikers, reached one of the quayside capstans and mounted it. He began to address them.
The police, he said, had closed the quays. They said it was to avoid disturbances but that was not the truth. It was to aid and abet the employers in their plan to import free labour. The Government had made its police force the minions of the employers instead of the servants of all the citizens. The answer to that was to close the port, not for a day or two days, but until such time as the demands of the men on strike had been conceded. He was going to address the dockers, despite employers and governments and police, and he would do so within the hour. Meanwhile he appealed to them to have trust in him and to promise that in his absence their demonstration would continue to be orderly and disciplined. He was helped down from the capstan and struggled towards the back of the crowd.
‘What do we do now?’ Joe asked generally.
‘How is he supposed to talk to the dockers?’ Mulhall wondered, ‘both sides of the river are cordoned off.’
‘He might get through on his own over on the North Bank.’
The men had broken rank and were gathered in a crowd. With Larkin gone there was no longer a focal point. Some of them lined up against the gates of the marshalling yards and shared cigarettes. The police, seeing the situation losing its tension, put away their batons.
‘Come on,’ Mulhall said. Fitz and Joe followed him over to the wall and they stood with their backs to Doggett & Co.’s gate.
‘If there’s a heave we don’t want to end up in the river,’ Mulhall explained, looking over at the unprotected quayside.
There was no sign of any slackening of work along the river. The cranes continued to swing, the rattle of horse-drawn floats and distant shouts mingled and drifted; it was the familiar voice of the riverside. A man who knew Mulhall came across and said:
‘What are we going to do?’
‘We were instructed to wait,’ Mulhall said.
‘Some of the lads at the back want to get on with it.’
‘That’s what I think too,’ Joe said.
‘We could easily break through. What do you say?’ He was speaking to Fitz, who said:
‘I say we should hold tight, but I’m willing to do what Mulhall thinks best.’
Mulhall looked across at the police.
‘We’d break through all right,’ he said, ‘because they’d let us. But you’d find they’ve reserves up every side street. And when they got us between them they’d let us have it.’
‘I don’t think we should be afraid of the police,’ the man objected.
‘There’s your answer,’ Fitz said, pointing towards the police. A second column had approached from behind and was spreading out in formation behind them.
‘That’s what I mean,’ Mulhall said.
A cheer began from behind. At first they thought the men were jeering at the reinforcements, but after a moment they realised that all heads were turning in the direction of the river. They could see nothing because of the crowd in front.
‘Up here,’ Mulhall said, turning to the wall. They climbed up after each other.
Fitz, who reached the top first, shouted ‘Look’ and pointed.
A rowing boat was moving downriver, manned by four oarsmen. Standing in the centre and waving to the men on shore was Larkin. The boat drew level with the police cordon, passed it and went on towards the unloading docks. A detachment of police left the main body and moved down the quayside, keeping pace with it.
Mulhall, deflated, said: ‘They’ll get him when he tries to land.’
But Larkin’s intention came suddenly to Fitz. He gripped Mulhall’s arm tightly and shouted:
‘He won’t land. He’ll speak to them from the boat.’
A hush fell on the crowd and they heard, after what seemed an age, the distant but still recognisable tones. What he was saying was lost, but the effect soon became clear. The nearest crane arm completed its semicircle and remained still. So did the next. Then, at intervals that grew shorter as the word spread from gang to gang, crane after crane became immobilised. They watched in silence as the paralysis spread. Yard by yard and ship by ship, the port was closing down. The cordon of police opened to form a narrow laneway, and through this the first contingent of striking dockers filed to join the demonstrators. Their arrival started a movement in the crowd which spread through it rapidly.
‘Let’s get down,’ Fitz suggested.
‘Stay put,’ Mulhall warned.
The cheering had grown wilder and the movement, reaching the rear, stopped for a moment and then began to surge forward. The front lines moved nearer to the police, hesitated, then surged forward once again. The police, deciding the moment of initiative, drew their batons and charged.
The mass of bodies shuddered as it took the impact, gave ground a little, but held. Fitz, looking down on the swaying bodies, wondered at the foolishness of the police action. Caught on one side by the wall and threatened by the river on the other, the crowd tightened and became impenetrable. There was no room to scatter and therefore no option but to stand firm. Already a number of men had been forced over the quayside into the water. Some of the police, detached from their colleagues, went down and were left behind, while the main body, finding the pressure irresistible, retreated and tried to hold together. The struggle continued back along the quays until the first side street offered a channel of escape, through which men streamed thickly from the main body. Fitz saw the mass thinning, and the police, the pressure at last released, stopping to regroup. Up the road from where they sat were three or four casualties of the charge. He climbed down and walked towards them. One man, with a deep gash along the side of his head, needed help urgently. Fitz turned and called to Mulhall.
‘Have a look at this.’ The man was barely conscious. His shirt and the collar of his coat were stained heavily with blood.
‘Can we lift him?’ Mulhall asked, when he had reached them.
‘I wouldn’t like to.’
‘There’s a stretcher in the first-aid room back in Doggett’s,’ Mulhall remembered.
‘I’ll go with you,’ Joe offered.
‘Will there be someone there?’
‘There’s bound to be a watchman,’ Mulhall said. It seemed the best thing. Doggett’s was only a short distance away. Fitz agreed.
‘Does he know how to use the telephone?’
‘I imagine so.’
‘Get him to call the ambulance while you’re there.’
When they had gone he lifted the injured man gently so that his arm made a rest for his head. It helped to slow down the flow of blood. Beyond that there was little he could do. The area immediately around them was deserted, but further along the riverside men still hung around in groups. Fitz, wondering uneasily where the police had got to, wished that Joe and Mulhall would hurry. The man in his arms was unconscious and breathing heavily, the wound was open and ugly, about him the painted gateways and dusty cobbles wore an air of brooding menace. He looked behind him and there was no sign of help.
‘Mulhall,’ he shouted, hardly knowing why. There was no answer. The injured man began to moan. It seemed to Fitz that the others had been gone for an hour. His arm under the head began to ache unbearably, the evening light bathed the cobbles about him with an oppressive light that seemed to press on him physically. At last he caught sight of Mulhall and Joe. They moved towards him for a short distance and stopped. He waved his free arm at them to hurry, but they signalled wildly to him and shouted. He looked downriver again and froze. The isolated groups had formed into a crowd again and were racing towards him. It was another baton charge, this time with the police in control. He heard Mulhall shouting to him to run, but the head on his arm, helpless and bloody, held him fixed where he was. He hugged the injured man tighter, until the bedlam of legs and bodies milled about him on all sides, cutting out the light, tripping over him, throwing him to the ground with his broken burden now lying beneath him. A heavily booted foot caught him on the forehead as it passed and he lost consciousness.
He woke up again in the timekeeper’s office of Doggett & Co. There were keys about the wall, each with a number chalked beneath its hook. Mulhall and Joe were drinking tea with the watchman.
‘We’ve been keeping an eye on you,’ Mulhall said, when he sat up. Fitz felt his head.
‘Don’t mind the bandage,’ Mulhall reassured him, ‘the ambulance man said you’d be as right as rain.’
Fitz remembered. ‘Where’s the other chap?’
‘They carted him off with them,’ Joe said.
‘Is he bad?’
‘Fractured skull—they think. You probably saved his life.’
‘Give me a cup of that,’ Fitz asked. Mulhall took a can from a gas ring in the corner and poured.
‘We were keeping it hot for you,’ he said. He grinned at Fitz, a kindly and approving grin that made Fitz feel happy. He sipped the tea. He realised as he did so that he was ravenously hungry.
Pat searched for Lily until the heat of airless streets brought him to a standstill. He leaned against a lamp-post and wondered what likely place was left. He had stood on the narrow landing outside her room for almost an hour, thinking she must surely return for a meal. He heard the Angelus bell striking and nodded to other occupants as they passed up and down the uncarpeted stairs until it became embarrassing to be seen standing so long in the same place. He went out again into the streets, tried the pubs and the usual shops all over again and met Maisie for the second time that evening. She treated him this time like a harmless lunatic.
‘There’s no sign of Lily anywhere,’ he reported.
‘Maybe she’s gone off with a soldier,’ Maisie said, laughing at him.
‘I want to see her urgently.’
‘You must be in a bad way,’ Maisie sympathised, ‘and it only half past six of a summer’s evening.’
‘Do you know where she is?’
‘I know where you’ll find as good as her.’
‘It’s important, Maisie,’ Pat appealed.
‘I haven’t seen sight nor light of her,’ Maisie said, ‘and that’s the gospel truth.’
She was lying. He was convinced of it. Lily, for whatever reason, was avoiding him.
Hunger and thirst made him wish now that he had waited to see if there was any strike pay. The thought that Lily did not want to see him began as a puzzling suspicion and became a gnawing pain. They had been warm to each other for so long.
He decided to abandon the search for the moment. His immediate need was a drink. He set off purposefully until he reached a shop with three brass balls hanging outside it.
‘Are we doing business, Patrick?’ Mr. Donegan said pleasantly. He had been writing in his accounts book. Pat removed his jacket.
‘This,’ he said putting it on the counter.
Mr. Donegan adjusted his glasses and held it up to examine it.
‘Your coat?’ he questioned.
‘How much?’ Pat asked.
‘How much did you want?’
‘Half a crown.’
Mr. Donegan made a clicking noise with his tongue. Pat was well known to him, a regular and reliable client. But he liked to make a business point.
‘It’s not worth half that,’ he said.
‘Two shillings,’ Pat compromised.
Mr. Donegan wrote a docket and handed him half a crown.
‘We’ll leave it the half-crown,’ he said easily. ‘Any sign of the work resuming?’
‘Not yet,’ Pat said, ‘but I’ll be back to you, whether or aye.’
‘Of course you will,’ Mr. Donegan said. A thought occurred to him. ‘Anything in the pockets?’ He ran his hands through them absentmindedly.
‘You might find a few holes,’
‘For ventilation,’ Mr. Donegan smiled. Then he frowned. ‘Don’t go getting drunk. There’s no nourishment in porter.’
‘There’s other things in porter,’ Pat suggested.
‘No’, Mr. Donegan denied. ‘Drink, like women, is a snare and a delusion. God bless you.’
‘God bless us all,’ Pat said.
He met Rashers on his way across town, recognising first the voice and then the bearded figure with the hand cupped against the side of the face and its feet planted in the gutter. The dog sat patiently, as though adjudicating.
‘Come all ye gallant neighbours come, and listen to my song
Of working men and women too who fight a cruel wrong
How sad their plight, this bitter night, deserted and let down
Their cause betrayed by foreign knaves which serves the British crown
O, do not trust unless you must the men that serves the crown.’
Pat slapped Rashers on the shoulder.
‘Come on. I’ll buy you a pint.’
‘I’d rather you forked out the tuppence.’
‘I’ll do both. Come on.’
‘You’re a decent Christian gentleman,’ Rashers said, following him, ‘and may you have the life of Reilly and a large funeral.’
He gave a jerk to the lead, bringing the dog reluctantly to its feet.
They went into the public house and ordered. Sunlight slanted through the windows and the air was warm and smelled a little of urine.
‘Where did you get the ballad?’
‘I made it up.’
‘Out of your head?’
‘Out of my heart,’ Rashers said, correcting him. ‘A ballad made out of the head is worse than useless. Here’s my best respects.’
He raised his pint.
‘A happy Christmas,’ Pat said.
‘We’ll see that too’, Rashers predicted, ‘when the working class comes into their own.’
‘We’ll have a statue put up to you in years to come,’ Pat promised, ‘and the people will gather from near and far to see the words spelled out on it in golden letters: Rashers Tierney, Bard of The Revolution.’
They both fell silent, picturing in their mind the stone tribute of Pat’s fantasy.
‘The only thing is,’ Pat amended, ‘they’d have to leave the bloody oul dog out of it.’
‘I seen a statue to a dog once,’ Rashers volunteered. ‘It was put up by a rich oul wan in memory of a pet terrier.’
‘And why not?’
‘It didn’t look right. I often wondered had she the priest to pronounce over it, sprinkling holy water and wishing it eternal rest, in secula seculorium.’
‘Maybe she believed in that thing about souls.
‘When you pass on you come back as an animal.’
‘You mean Rusty here mightn’t be a dog at all? He might only be somebody looking like a dog?’
‘Rusty could be Napoleon. Or Julius Caesar.’ Rashers looked down at the dog. It cocked its head at him, wondering if they were about to leave.
‘Poor Rusty,’ Rashers said, ‘it’s a bit of a come-down for you, whatever the hell you were.’
He patted the dog on the head. Pat looked for the public house clock and saw that it was half past eight.
‘There’s your tuppence,’ he said. ‘I have to be off.’
He finished his pint and went out. There seemed very little point in going to Lily’s room again, so he decided to kill time by walking down towards the quays. There were policemen everywhere in the streets, moving along in groups. He changed his mind about going to the quays and went in again to drink, this time with a man who was full of talk about the disturbances. When he came out it was half past nine. The streets had the late evening odour of dust, and an old man in a long black soutane was closing over the entrance doors to the Pro-Cathedral. One scraped its lock along the stone paved threshold, the other collided roughly with it and set up a thunder roll of sound that escaped from the church and echoed along the street. Pat, the drink moving in him, hurried his pace and headed directly for Lily’s favourite pub, where the curate said yes, she had been there on and off. His expression conveyed his conclusions about Pat’s reason for asking, but he went off polishing a glass and whistling. His customers’ business was their own, provided they conducted it in an orderly fashion. Pat took his drink and sat down to wait.
The pain inside him, which he had managed to forget in his talk with others, attacked him more fiercely now that he was alone. He looked at the fly-blown mirror with its lettered advertisement and recollected a night when Lily had asked to have it brought into the snug so that she could fix her hair. The curate did it for Lily, although he would have refused any of the others. Pat remembered her small, pretty face in it and the hands shaping the hair about it with movements that he loved. He had money that night after a lucky break with the horses, and they had gone to the Empire Palace Theatre afterwards to see James Fawn, the comedian.
Pat pushed the memory from his mind and was raising his glass when he heard the voice from the snug. He took his drink with him and walked down with it.
‘Lily,’ he said.
She started when she saw him at the door. He noted that too. It upset him. She stood waiting for her drink, drumming her fingers on the edge of the service hatch, unable to think of something to say that would be ordinary and usual. At last she managed, lamely, ‘Hello, Pat.’
She took her drink and sat down. He joined her.
‘I want to ask you something, Lily.’
‘You don’t have to sound like a bloody funeral about it.’
‘Why have you been avoiding me?’
She laughed falsely and said: ‘Are you getting ideas about yourself?’
‘For weeks I’ve been looking for you. You even got Maisie to put me off.’
She flushed angrily and he could see that her rage, too, was false. She was working it up purposely, a weapon of defence.
‘That’s something I want to have out with you, Pat Bannister. You’ve been following me around and asking every Tom, Dick and Harry about me, getting me talked about and making a holy show of me. What the hell ails you?’
‘I wanted to see you. About the few pounds you were holding for me.’
‘Four lousy pounds. Is that the extent of your trouble?’
‘Did you spend it?’
He said it casually, knowing now that she had.
‘You said I could.’
‘All of it?’
‘All of it he says. Four lousy pounds.’ Her vehemence surprised him. She looked tired and overwrought. In her eyes and on her face he saw the months of anguish and fear. They puzzled and touched him. He put his hand on hers.
‘It doesn’t matter if you needed it, Lily.’
‘I needed it,’ Lily said. ‘I bloody well needed it all right.’
Her voice was bitter, but it was more like her own. He had got nearer to the Lily he had always known.
‘All right,’ he said, ‘I’ll buy you a drink and we can talk.’
He rapped on the counter.
‘What’s the use of talk?’
‘What did you need it for?’
She froze again and said shortly: ‘Never mind what I needed it for.’
‘All right,’ he said, pacifying her, ‘it doesn’t matter. I didn’t know you’d spend it—not all of it.’ He paused and added, ‘You never did that before.’ He meant it as an explanation, but Lily chose to take it as a reproach. She turned quickly on him.
‘I needed it. I’ve told you already.’
‘And I said that’s all right. But you shouldn’t have avoided me.’
‘Who avoided you?’ Lily demanded, raising her voice.
The curate, coming for the order, said soothingly, ‘Now, now, lady, keep the voice down—no commotion.’
‘You shut up,’ Lily snapped at him.
He grinned at her and went off to get the drinks. Pat, the hurt of it goading him, persisted.
‘All those weeks you were avoiding me. And you had Maisie and her likes laughing at me.’
‘What the hell do you think they were doing at me?’
Pat touched her hand again, but she drew it quickly away from him. Her hostility was harder to bear than anything else. He had not realised before how much he cared for her; not her body only, that she had denied to him when they had last met, but Lily herself, Lily who was quick to gibe but quick also to comfort and generous also in giving. Lily who could touch him with a slender hand and evoke a memory of childhood. Painfully he asked:
‘Are you in trouble, Lily?’
His warmth and concern undermined her anger.
‘Was I ever in anything else?’ she said, her lip trembling and her eyes filling with tears, ‘since the day I came into the world.’
‘And you won’t tell me what it is?’
‘Please don’t ask me, Pat,’ she pleaded. ‘I needed your few pounds and I spent it. And for all the good it done I might as well have flung it into the Liffey.’ She turned to face him, a desperate honesty in her voice. ‘I played square with you always, didn’t I? You trusted me with many a thing and I never once let you down. This time it couldn’t be helped.’
‘You don’t have to explain anything, Lily.’
‘That’s what I used to think. But you kept looking for me.’
‘Is there any harm in that? Am I not to look for you?’
‘You were asking everybody. I knew it was the money you wanted.’
‘The others had me upset. I said I could get two pounds and when I told them how one of them jeered at me for a fool.’
He saw her stiffen and wondered what he had done now.
‘What others?’ she asked, in a tight, agonised voice.
‘Joe—Fitz. I told them I could get two pounds.’ The curate came and put their drinks on the table. Lily ignored him.
‘So you’ve been talking to them about me . . .’
‘I haven’t been talking to anybody.’
‘You blazoned it to the world and its wife that Lily Maxwell spent four pounds that didn’t belong to her.’
‘You have it all wrong, Lily.’
He had half risen in his effort to explain away her misunderstanding, but she brushed past the curate and stopped at the door.
‘After that you can keep your drink. I don’t want you crying it around the city that I drank your money on top of spending a bloody fortune on you.’
Pat stood up. Everything he tried to say had come out wrong. He struggled for more words, the right words. They didn’t come and he felt he was going to burst.
‘Lily . . .’ he shouted. He loved her. He wanted to shout that too. But the curate was standing by, grinning, taking it all in. She pushed open the door and went out. It banged hard behind her, sending a cloud of sawdust inwards along the floor. The curate, large, red-faced, amiable, said to Pat:
‘That’s women for you—never know when you have them.’
He was greatly amused.
‘Will I take back the second drink?’
‘Leave it where it is,’ Pat told him.
He tried to match the curate’s mood—to sound offhand and undisturbed. It was painfully difficult, with his world in bits about him.
She was gone. He lingered over the drink Lily had left behind her until the loneliness became unbearable. He was back in the street and wondering what direction to take, when the idea of approaching Mr. Donegan again suggested itself. He had nothing to pledge that was worth anything and anyway Mr. Donegan was bound to have put up the shutters for the night, but he made up his mind to try what was a forlorn hope.
It was quite dark now. Along Donegan’s street, the gas-lamps, spaced widely apart, threw a circle of soft light about themselves. The shutters of Mr. Donegan’s shop caught and reflected the ghost of their glow, the three brass balls shone dimly. A light escaped from the chink in the blind which covered the window above the gold lettered name. Pat began to knock at the door, producing a sound that startled the deserted street. It took Mr. Donegan some time to descend the stairs and when he opened the door he was not in the best of humour.
‘What’s all this?’ he demanded, peering out.
‘It’s me,’ Pat said.
‘Either that or your twin brother,’ Mr. Donegan agreed.
‘I want to see you about a little matter.’
‘I open in the morning,’ Mr. Donegan pointed out.
‘For the love of your mother, Mr. Donegan, as an old and loyal customer.’
Mr. Donegan sighed.
He led the way down a narrow passage until they came to a side door which let them into the shop. It was in darkness. Mr. Donegan found the portable ladder, struck a match and grunted elaborately as he stretched up to light the gas.
‘Now look what I’ve done,’ he said. He had touched the mantle with the head of the match. A blue flame, escaping through the puncture, tried like a tongue to lick the side of the glass.
‘It’s a favour,’ Pat began, when Mr. Donegan had climbed down.
‘So I feared.’ He looked again at the mantle, as though it was at fault.
‘I want two pounds.’
‘At once, if I can have it.’
‘Are you in trouble?’
‘Of a kind.’
‘If it’s to bribe a policeman don’t be a fool. He’ll either list it in the charges or he’ll take it and tip off one of his pals to pick you up tomorrow.’
‘It’s not that sort of trouble.’
‘What have you to pledge?’
‘Nothing,’ Pat said.
It took Mr. Donegan some moments to find words.
‘Nothing,’ he repeated.
‘If you give me two pounds now, I’ll have it back with you before three o’clock tomorrow.’
‘Where will you get it?’ Mr. Donegan asked, putting his elbows on the counter and leaning forward, confident that there was no satisfactory answer.
‘From a moneylender who knows me well.’
‘And what guarantee have I that I’ll ever see you again?’
‘My good name.’
‘You’ve a good name,’ Mr. Donegan agreed, ‘but that’s not a good business basis. We must be reasonable.’
Pat bent down. Mr. Donegan, leaning forward still further, saw with growing surprise that he was unlacing his boots. He took them off with difficulty and placed them on the counter under Mr. Donegan’s nose.
‘These,’ he said.
Mr. Donegan lifted one of the boots, and, looking hard at the sole, spoke his mind.
‘Is it these . . .?’
‘You’d buy five pairs of these for two pounds.’
‘I could. But I wouldn’t,’ Pat said.
‘You wouldn’t,’ Mr. Donegan agreed. ‘I know you well enough to believe that.’
‘Then take the boots. A man can’t do without his boots very long and they’ll be your warrant that I’ll be back with the money.’
Mr. Donegan thought hard. Then he went to the back of the shop. He reappeared with two sovereigns, which he gave to Pat.
‘Are you satisfied,’ Pat asked, before he accepted them.
‘I’m satisfied,’ Mr. Donegan said, ‘but take the boots. I can’t have you going around naked.’
‘A bargain is a bargain,’ Pat insisted.
Mr. Donegan, noting the barefooted, coatless, ridiculously dogged cut of him, gave it up. He had found the measure of his man. His confidence was unprofessional, but complete.
‘All right,’ he said, shrugging his shoulders, ‘if it pleases you, it pleases me.’
Pat put the money in his pocket and made immediately for Chandlers Court. He could not bear to have them think her dishonest, a common tart who took whatever she could get. The night was warm, the side streets almost deserted, a sickle moon poised gracefully above them and touched the roof-tops with silver. He climbed the stairs without meeting anybody and tapped at the door. It took Fitz some time to recognise his caller.
‘Where were you all day?’ he asked.
‘I went to see Lily,’ Pat said. He was searching in his pockets. Fitz felt on his palm the tiny weight of the two sovereigns. He was moved, by loyalty, by generosity, by that superb quality in Pat’s love for others which made his personality something of a riddle.
‘You’re far too generous. And, besides, I told you there was no hurry.’
‘They’re safer with you than lying about in Lily’s place,’ Pat said. He was elaborately offhand.
‘You’re a real friend in need,’ Fitz said, touched.
‘For nothing,’ Pat said.
‘Aren’t you coming in for a minute?’
‘No—it’s a bit on the late side. How did things go?’
‘Larkin addressed the dockers. We think the port is completely closed—but we can’t be sure until tomorrow.’
‘I heard there was trouble.’
‘A bit. I got a clatter myself.’
‘So I see,’ Pat said, acknowledging the bandage. ‘Sorry I wasn’t there.’
Fitz wondered at this apparent lack of curiosity.
‘Come in and we’ll talk.’
‘No,’ Pat said, ‘I have to get along. See you sometime tomorrow.’ He turned to go, then turned back.
‘Just one little favour.’
‘Of course,’ Fitz said.
‘I didn’t like what Joe said today.’
‘Neither did I. I told him off.’
‘Would you let him know when you see him that Lily was all right.’
Fitz knew what he meant. He said he would.
‘I’ll tell both of them.’
‘Thanks,’ Pat said. ‘She’s a straight girl—and I want them to know that. Good luck.’
‘Thanks,’ Fitz said. Pat waited until he had dosed the door. Then he went down the stairs and out again into the streets. He passed under a gas-lamp and into the shadows. A passerby stared after him, puzzled by his noiselessness, but the night hid his want and left him wondering.
On the following day the dockers continued their strike. Stevedores read out names to knots of men who listened in silence and then moved away, ships tied up and remained idle and untouched in calm water under a lazy sun. For over a week nothing moved along the port. There were policemen everywhere, or so it seemed, parading in groups and looking grim and businesslike, but finding very little to do. Even the mass meeting of dockers at which they had pledged themselves to remain out until the carters’ grievances had been dealt with remained orderly. Fitz heard Larkin again that night and wondered at the magnetism of the man as the crowd cheered and the flares of the torch-bearers tossed about the platform, painting shadows on hungry faces that peered under peaked caps. Most of them had empty pockets, bare rooms to return to, bread and tea to kill hunger with and no assurance of strike pay or any kind of relief. Yet they cheered when he said he could promise them nothing except hardship, and felt that somewhere at the end of the road there was a better world waiting. Like heaven, it was very far away, and like heaven it would be very hard to reach. Yet where before the only certainty had been obscurity and want, now at least there was that hint of hope. Hope for what, Fitz in the calm after the speechmaking, could not quite remember. He could only remember that it had been there, that it had infected him in company with thousands of others crushing and jostling and listening; perhaps it was a feeling of movement that remained, a journey beginning, a vague but certain purpose.
Whatever it was, it served Rashers well. People parted with pennies and halfpennies when he moved among the gatherings, singing in his cracked voice before the speakers mounted the platform. He had a fortnight of unusual prosperity. Then the Government, alarmed at a situation for which there was no precedent, intervened by calling a meeting of the interested parties at Dublin Castle and setting up a board of conciliation to examine and recommend new conditions for wages and hours of work. Mr. Sexton, seeing the moment ripe to reassert his authority, crossed over from Liverpool and decided to represent the union in his capacity as general secretary. On his advice the men agreed to return to work pending the outcome. Rashers found the ballad still good for a few pence on Saturday nights, until his clients learned that Sexton, not Larkin, would carry on the negotiations. The disappointment had its effect on Rashers’ income and the ballad, though useful, ceased to be the money-earner it had been.
Mr. Doggett, having met the general wage demand, was anxious to clean the slate of the other outstanding irritation. He informed the foundry that he would accept responsibility for the few shillings overtime pay that had caused the dispute. Nolan & Keyes did likewise. The whole transaction cost less than five pounds and the men concerned received three shillings each. Mulhall, meeting Fitz on the stairs, offered him a drink on the strength of it.
‘I want to talk to you,’ he said.
It was August. The trams were bringing back visitors from the Horse Show at Ballsbridge, the streets were beginning to breathe again after the drenching sun of the afternoon.
Mulhall paid and said immediately: ‘It’s about Sexton taking over the negotiations. Most of us feel Larkin should have been allowed to carry it on.’
Fitz felt the same way, but he knew there was little they could do.
‘Sexton is general secretary. He can overrule Larkin anytime he likes. At the same time I don’t see why he should come into it now.’
‘Because Larkin’s tactics don’t suit,’ Mulhall said, ‘they cost too much money. And it’s going to remain that way until we break away and form a union of our own.’
‘I’ve heard that being talked about,’ Fitz said.
‘With Larkin as general secretary,’ Mulhall added. He paused and drank. ‘What do you think about that?’
‘I agree that we should start on our own,’ he said carefully, ‘but not just yet. We’ll need money. After the knocking around we’ve taken during the past few months we need time to find our feet again.’
‘I know, but we can make a beginning. Will you do your bit on the organising end?’
‘In the foundry—yes.’
‘That’s enough for a start. Myself and a few others will be moving around the jobs generally. We may have to be ready quicker than you think—and I’ll tell you why. Larkin may be prosecuted by the union—for misappropriation of funds.’
It took Fitz some time to grasp his meaning.
‘The money he collected in Cork.’
‘But that was paid out.’
‘It was paid out to us in Dublin. Their case is that it was collected for the National Union of Dockers and should have been sent on to Liverpool first. It’s a legal wrangle, but they’ve written to the committee about it.’
‘What’s their reason?’
‘It’s clear enough to me,’ Mulhall said. ‘He’s called too many strikes without consulting them. They’ll move heaven and earth to stop him doing it.’
Mulhall finished his pint.
‘So we need a union of our own. Are you still backing us?’
Fitz, remembering the meetings, put aside his other doubts and said: ‘I’m with Larkin—all the way.’
‘Good,’ Mulhall said. He indicated the empty glass.
‘No thanks,’ Fitz declined. ‘I’m on shift at twelve. But we’ll talk again.’
‘I’m glad you’re with us,’ Mulhall said, ‘you’re important.’ He reached out his hand. It was a formality Fitz had not expected.
‘Thanks,’ he said, taking it warmly.
‘I beg your pardon, Father.’
The paper lay on the breakfast table between them. Father O’Sullivan had the right to pick it up first, but the headlines had roused Father O’Connor’s curiosity. He reached out his hand.
‘Certainly,’ Father O’Sullivan said. He had a large, benevolent face.
‘Just the headlines.’
Father O’Sullivan motioned with a large benevolent hand to explain that it didn’t matter.
‘Strikes in Cork and Derry: Larkin’s Answer to exclusion from Conciliation Board. Expulsion Certain, confirms Sexton.’
It was everywhere, this upheaval, a symptom of materialistic thinking spreading through the whole of Irish society. He would give warning from the pulpit.
‘Thank you, Father,’ he said, not bothering to read further.
He saw now that it would have been a mistake to distribute the food to the strikers. It was as well they had refused. Relief would only prolong their miseries and strengthen the hold of their leaders. There were others who could be served, neglected and harmless creatures who were hungry too. The old. He should have thought in the first place of the old.
Near Christmas he told Hegarty and Keever to dispose of the parcels to the aged of the parish, provided they were not mixed up with the troublemakers. Keever made out his list. He was more prudent this time. The parcels were accepted gratefully. One learned, Father O’Connor reflected, however painfully, to separate the sheep from the goats. Some months earlier the true meaning of the phrase would not have been clear to him. Now he saw that it applied even to charity. It was sad. It was painful. It was true.
They sheltered in the gateway while the east wind, beating up the river, brought a sudden flurry of snow with it. Many of the gateways facing on to the river were closed. Once again, at intervals of a hundred yards or so, groups of carters were picketing.
‘A white Christmas,’ Fitz said, ironically.
Mulhall, looking at the cold, white spray that broke along the water, said: ‘And a hungry one.’
It was rough, being on strike for the second time within a few months. But the carters were a determined crowd. Larkin’s expulsion from the Liverpool union had left the road open for the formation of a union of his own. He had taken it. The carters were his first members.
‘Are you getting strike pay regularly?’
‘It hasn’t failed yet.’
‘Where does Larkin get it from?’
‘A mystery,’ Mulhall admitted, ‘but he always finds it somehow. Maybe the clergy are right. He’s in league with oul Nick.’
‘We had a meeting at the foundry last night,’ Fitz told him. ‘We’re all transferring to the new union.’
‘You had a hand in that, I’d say.’
‘I gave you a promise.’
‘That’s what I meant,’ Mulhall acknowledged.
‘It was easy. They all want to be with Larkin.’
‘When is it to happen?’
‘Tomorrow evening. We’re going over in a body.’
‘Good,’ Mulhall said, ‘we’ll all be together again.’
‘We can levy right away to help the strike fund for you fellows.’
Mulhall nodded. The curtain of snowflakes had thinned. The air became clear. They began to walk home together. It was a desolate walk, with the east wind freezing their limbs and putting an edge on appetites they could not hope to satisfy. The streets were muddy and scattered with puddles. One stretched almost the entire width of a laneway. Mulhall waded straight through but Fitz picked a passage around the edges. His boots were leaking.
Mary was almost certain she was going to have a baby. It was another strong reason for avoiding trouble. The savage militancy of the new movement had bothered him throughout the whole of the autumn. Many a time, while the city slept and he broke off stoking to eat the supper Mary had made up for him, he had stared at the glowing frames of the furnace openings which spread in line down No. 2 House, feeling the bond between himself and that glowing gallery of fires. When he fed them they in turn fed him; if he let them go out there would be nothing for the home and nothing for the table. Sooner or later Larkin would call on him again to starve them and starve in turn himself. Sometimes, when turning to say goodbye to Mary in the evenings he would see through the large windows behind her the roofs of houses on the far side, their broken slates a dark blue under a sky that was taking a long time to get rid of the day, and she would seem so lonely and unprotected that it felt like the act of a traitor not to grasp tightly for her sake to the little bit of security that offered. But he had come to see that the security itself was a mirage; people he did not know and would never meet decided its extent and continuance for reasons that suited only themselves. He and the others did not count.
On Christmas Day Mary gave half of what they had to the Mulhalls; Mrs. Bartley thought of Rashers and saved a piece of cake for him; Rashers, in turn, invited Hennessy to the boiler house of St. Brigid’s Church on the Feast of the Epiphany. Father O’Connor had re-employed him as boilerman for the season and the housekeeper had promised to give him his breakfast in the kitchen, a privilege of boilermen, which had become traditional in the parish. Hennessy waited for him in the boiler house itself. It lay under the back of the church, down stone steps that were surrounded by iron railings. A small furnace stood in the centre, and there was enough room to accommodate the couple of broken chairs between it and the coke from which Rashers fed it. He opened the door of the furnace and extended his hands to the warmth. Then he lit the candle which stood on a ledge in the stonework. The wavering light showed up walls that were thickly coated with black dust and ancient webs so encrusted that they hung like rags from the corners of the ceiling. He jumped when Rashers came suddenly behind him.
‘You took a start out of me,’ Hennessy confessed.
‘Sit where you are,’ Rashers ordered.
It was only a dirty hole under the church, but it was warm and dry and for a season it was his. The fact gave him the right to play host.
‘Did you hear the bell ringing?’ he asked.
‘I did. I’d want to be deaf not to.’
The bell of St. Brigid’s stood in the church grounds, a great bronze affair supported by bars which were imbedded in a stone pedestal.
‘That was me,’ Rashers said, modestly.
‘You rang it?’
‘The clerk said I could. Hanlon used to do it for him of a Sunday.’
‘And now it’s your privilege,’ Hennessy said. ‘Isn’t that a great honour—to be summoning near and far to the house of God.’
‘I knocked a bloody fine clatter out of it,’ Rashers boasted. ‘Got my feet against the stonework, took the rope in my hand and lay back.’
He gave Hennessy a rough demonstration.
‘It sounded very impressive,’ Hennessy confirmed. ‘Every clang caught me at the back of the throat.’
‘Here’s something else for the same place,’ Rashers said. He opened a newspaper and displayed slices of chicken and ham, which he had managed to hide away in the course of breakfast. When he had divided them with Hennessy he took a bottle from his pocket, removed the cork and passed it under Hennessy’s nose.
‘Port wine,’ Hennessy breathed.
‘Pinched it from a bottle on the dresser.’
‘They’ll miss it and you’ll be in trouble.’
‘There were three half-finished bottles in a row. They’ll never guess.’
‘Somebody must be partial to the cup that cheers.’
‘Father Giffley, I imagine. The other man is a bit prejudiced in that direction. He doesn’t like the smell of drink at all.’
‘God bless the thought, anyway,’ Hennessy said. He drank deeply.
‘What do you think of my little place here?’ Rashers asked, as they feasted.
‘If I was you I’d bunk down here at nights instead of in that bloody oul basement in Chandler’s Court.’
‘I would, only for the dog. I can’t very well leave him on his own.’
‘Bring him with you,’ Hennessy suggested generously.
‘That would be a class of a sacrilege,’ Rashers objected, ‘bringing an unbaptised animal into a church.’
‘This isn’t the church.’
‘It’s all sanctified ground.’
‘Not the boiler house,’ Hennessy argued. ‘Sanctifying the boiler house would be a bit Irish. You might as well say the toilet at the back of the vestry was sanctified.’
The point impressed Rashers.
‘You might be right,’ he conceded.
‘Of course I’m right.’
‘Maybe I’ll chance bringing him down an odd night,’ he agreed. Again he passed the bottle to Hennessy. He thought in silence for a while.
‘A bit of music mightn’t be out of place.’
‘What music?’ Hennessy asked.
‘This,’ Rashers said. He rooted in his inner pockets and drew out a tin whistle. It was a superior toned Italian Flageolet.
‘I got a present of a shilling at Christmas from Father Giffley,’ he explained, ‘and I squandered it on this.’
‘Are you not afraid they’d hear you above?’
‘Divil the bit.’ He held the whistle towards Hennessy. ‘What do you think of it?’
Its slender column took on the rosy hue of the firelight. They both regarded it, Rashers affectionately, Hennessy, his mouth full of food, with an expression of bulbous curiosity.
‘You spent a shilling on that?’ he asked when it was physically possible.
Rashers turned it about and about in the firelight and said: ‘I often spent a shilling on less.’ He took a swig from the bottle and passed it to Hennessy.
‘Isn’t this the life of Reilly?’ Hennessy exclaimed. They bent forward together to let the fireglow play on their bodies, unaware of the antics of their gigantic shadows in the flickering candlelight.
‘I knew you’d like the wine,’ Rashers said. ‘It’s made out of grapes.’
‘Play the oul whistle,’ Hennessy invited. He disposed himself comfortably to listen.
Rashers began to do so. The notes came out sweetly and slowly. Hennessy, listening politely, now and then gathered food crumbs from the paper on his knee with fingers that courteously avoided noise. Rashers thrust his chin forward and found again a simple consolation he had lost months before in race crowds and drink.
Celebrating late mass in the church above them, Father Giffley bent down to the altar and breathed the Domine Non Sum Dignus. The act of stooping sent a stab of pain shooting from his neck to his throbbing eyes. The server struck the altar gong three times with the felt-headed hammer and the worshippers bent low also and beat their breasts.
At fifteen minutes to midnight on the sixth day of May 1910, in the presence of Her Majesty Queen Alexandra, the Prince and Princess of Wales, the Princess Royal and the Duke of Fife, Princess Victoria, Princess Louise and the Duchess of Argyll, Edward VII breathed his last.
The Archbishop of Dublin had called for prayers for his recovery. When these were seen to have gone unanswered, the city did the next best thing. It went into deep mourning. Prescott’s, the cleaners, who claimed to have enormous facilities for such work, offered to dye all articles of clothing black at the shortest notice. Mrs. Bradshaw availed of their services and during his lying-instate she began to read the newspapers closely, keeping her husband well informed on the day-to-day events. The report of a storm, particularly, caught her interest. It occurred on the Wednesday and involved the historic scene at Westminster in a wild splendour. It broke about the heads of his loyal subjects who waited hour after hour to pay their last tribute. Vivid flashes of lightning streaked the sky and thunder crashed above the hall in which the King lay, guarded by his silent and motionless watchers. He was the least troubled of them all. The Liberals had threatened to abolish his house of peers; they could do so now without causing him the least pain. John Redmond had urged his Irish followers to hasten Home Rule by supporting the Liberal policy; he could now lean over to bawl it in the King’s ear and no flicker of the royal eyelids would reprove or admonish him. For months his subjects had wondered if in such a crisis the King could remain above politics. Death, with an unexpected gesture, had assured them that he would.
‘What a terrible storm last night,’ Mrs. Bradshaw said to her husband, when he had returned from his morning walk along the front.
‘A fog,’ he corrected. ‘I’d hardly call it a storm.’
‘I mean in London.’
‘It’s all here in the paper.’
‘I’m not surprised,’ he said, ‘the Kish was going all night.’
She had heard it too. All night the boom of the fog signal had disturbed her rest, a regular, disembodied moan that made the night restless.
‘There’s a thick mist at sea,’ he reported.
‘I felt there would be. How I pity the poor sailors.’
‘Didn’t stop the Navy. Part of the Home Fleet have anchored down below—I could make out the Lord Nelson.’ Bradshaw was very good at ships. He knew their names and could tell the difference between battleships and cruisers, gunboats and destroyers. The gentlemen of Kingstown, of course, took a very special pride in such things. Naturally so.
‘It’s a beautiful name—the Peacemaker.’
Bradshaw looked puzzled. Then he understood.
‘You mean the King?’
‘Of course. That is what they are calling him.’
‘Ah. For a moment I thought you meant one of the battleships,’ he explained.
The next day public departments, banks and business establishments closed. The Most Reverend Dr. Walsh, Archbishop of Dublin, presided at Votive Mass in the Pro-Cathedral.
Yearling, who was staying at a remote hotel in Connemara for the mayfly fishing, forgot the significance of the day until very late that night. He was drinking whiskey, not in the hotel, but unobtrusively in a little public house. One of the local people was playing a fiddle and Yearling had the seat beside the turf fire. There was a smoky oil lamp hanging from the ceiling which gave the room a small, shadowed look, and the men near him, to his delight, were speaking quietly together in Gaelic. Their voices, unaccountably, reminded him that this had been the day of the royal funeral. He thought of William Martin Murphy and, with the merest ghost of a smile, he remembered his refusal to be tapped on the shoulder by the dead king’s sword.
The high grey walls of the workhouse shut out almost everything; they were a fortification against the life of the city, a barrier against time, which passed yet did not seem to pass. The visitors who came weekly were few; the inmates were many. Carts passed in and out on stated days with a jingling of harness and a creaking of shafts and a stumbling of hooves on the uneven cobbles, but these meant little to the old women who hobbled about the grounds in shapeless grey dresses, and nothing at all to those lying in the close-packed wards, their eyes fixed on the high ceilings for hours of silence. Here, too, Death came most frequently and with no noise at all. From where, Miss Gilchrist sometimes wondered: through the great arched gateway whether closed or open, up from the deep earth or down from the insubstantial sky? Three times it had come for her in the space of almost three years: once in daylight, when from beyond the screens about her bed the voices of the others and the clatter of crockery told her it was tea-time; once in the small hours when the candle in the hand of the sister lit the priest’s bending face; once when a giantlike thumb stretched down to anoint her from a limitless absence of either light or darkness. Yet she struggled back to the world again and at breakfast time the old woman whose turn it was to be on ward duty said:
‘We thought you were gone on us for certain yesterday, Gilchrist.’
She was unable to speak. After a while she managed to assemble her surroundings once more; the rusted iron beds side by side, the high window, the bare uneven boards of the ward.
‘You’ll be off your feet for good this time, Gilchrist,’ the old woman said, coming back, ‘and you’re a lucky oul bitch in that. You won’t have to empty any more bedpans.’
Miss Gilchrist smiled again. She had a sharp tongue, once well stocked for use. But now she kept to herself the answers that occurred so readily. They were no longer worth making. In a day or in a week; or in another three years, it would be all the same, whatever had been said or unsaid.
She was content now to lie quietly and know nothing of what passed outside. She would not, she knew, ever again take her turn at emptying the slops or the bedpans, or scrub the walls down, or sweep the floors or attend at the morgue where Death laid out his conquests before they were carted off to the grave. Miss Gilchrist had taken her turn at washing them for their journey. One day in winter she had entered to do her work and screamed because there were seven dead babies on one of the slabs. She was to be reprimanded severely for her conduct, but nothing further was said to her because near dawn the next morning she had her second attack. After considerable thought she decided to speak to Father O’Connor about it. It was his habit now to make occasional visits. He had come first because Mrs. Bradshaw, her conscience still troubled about the servant she had been fond of, asked him. Then, seizing the opportunity for the exercise of Christian virtue, he decided to continue because he suffered each time he had to enter among the miserable and the destitute and it seemed good to him to offer it to God for salvation’s sake, for his own soul and that of his superior. It might be the means of saving Father Giffley from alcoholism; if not it was still part of his duty to practise the corporal works of mercy—to clothe the naked, to feed the hungry, to visit the sick and imprisoned and to bury the dead.
The thought of seven naked babies, side by side on the slab of the dead, was a terrible one. But then, everything about the workhouse was terrible; poverty and illness and loneliness and senility were its four guardian angels.
‘You must think of them as seven innocent souls,’ he told Miss Gilchrist, ‘seven new angels praising God in heaven.’
Without changing her expression she said: ‘I want you to speak to Mrs. Bradshaw for me.’
‘I want her to know what will happen to me when I die here.’
‘You’re distressing yourself . . .’ Father O’Connor said.
‘They’ll take me with the rest and bury me in a pauper’s grave. I want her to claim my body and save me from that.’
He tried to say something, but it was difficult. Her face was grey and very small, her lips were colourless and ringed with dried spittle which cracked when she spoke. Her mind was fixed firmly now on what she wanted to say.
‘I’ve seen too many of them, Father, laid out there to be whipped off without a tear from a friend or a solitary soul to say goodbye. Do you know what I seen once?’
She turned her face away and for a moment he thought she was wandering back to the incident of the babies again. But it wasn’t that.
‘Sometimes they forget to lock the back door of the morgue—the one that leads into the laneway. Once when I went in there was a scattering of little boys. Do you know what they were up to, Father? They were stealing the pennies from the eyes of the dead.’
He had learned enough these past few years to feel only regret. The children of need were capable of deeds far worse.
‘I would like to think that when I go someone will claim my poor body.’
‘I’ll speak to Mrs. Bradshaw,’ he promised. As always, his temptation to run away almost mastered his will to help. He fought it; for over two years it had been the same battle, trying not to surrender to disgust.
‘You mustn’t give way to morbid fancies,’ he insisted. ‘You can be sure you’ll see many and many a long day yet.’ He looked over at the high window. He saw, at a great distance it seemed, the Dublin mountains. They were, as always, fresh and beautiful. In surroundings such as that, among fields and hills, the old lady near him had been born. He looked back at the bed. She was shaking her head from side to side, denying something he had said.
It was through Miss Gilchrist that he paid his first visit to Mary. He did so to ask Mary to visit the old woman. The meeting was embarrassing at first. Mary had been two years in his parish yet he had made no attempt to contact her, partly because of what had happened on the night she had called to the vestry with Fitz to arrange their marriage, partly because it was difficult to avoid reference to the world they had met in first. Mary offered him tea but he refused.
‘And have you children?’ he asked, letting his attention fix itself on his surroundings while he questioned her. He noted a table, a sideboard and some butter boxes. The clock on the mantelpiece seemed out of place.
He had to think hard to connect her answer and his question.
‘Two boys?’ he asked, relieved to remember.
‘A boy and a girl. The girl is only four weeks old.’
He had noticed she was looking unwell and had blamed poverty. Now he knew it was the usual combination of hunger and childbirth. The women had it hard. To ease the feeling of constraint he said: I’d like to see them.’
It was morning. Mary led him into the bedroom. Everything was clean. And they had two rooms. That was quite unusual.
‘Your husband is working?’
‘At the foundry.’
‘A blessing,’ he approved.
This made the extreme poverty hard to understand. Father O’Connor, turning the matter over in his mind as he talked, remembered there was an explanation. Mr. Larkin. Was this one of the homes that had refused the food parcels?
The children were wholesome and neat too. He put it down to the beneficial effect of training in a good house. The baby was sleeping, but the older child smiled at him. Father O’Connor crossed to the bed and then formally, gravely, he gave his blessing to both of them, touching each forehead lightly in turn, and murmuring the formula quietly but audibly. Mary moved to one side, knelt and crossed herself.
‘I must tell Mrs. Bradshaw you have a thriving family,’ he said, smiling and stretching out his hand to help her to rise. They were both suddenly at ease.
‘Give her my best respects,’ Mary said. Her voice trembled. At his blessing of the children she had felt a pang of emotion, an inexplicable happiness. For a moment, in a long barrenness, a vague hope filled her.
‘Of course.’ Her gratitude was moving.
‘I’ll visit Miss Gilchrist on Sunday.’
‘She’ll be delighted, I assure you.’ He held up his hand to prevent her when she moved to see him to the door.
He went down the stone steps and into the sunlight. The streets he passed through were familiar now; it was satisfactory to be able to name the side turns, to remember here and there a family to which he had ministered personally.
Father O’Connor paused to take a paper from a newsboy, who touched his hat and said ‘God bless you, Father’ when he waved aside the change. He put the paper in his pocket. The woman was unwell. As he walked he wondered what sting of the flesh could tempt a young girl to exchange service in a good house for a couple of rooms and a few butter boxes. He had been told something about Fitzpatrick. By Timothy Keever, was it? He could not remember what.
At lunchtime he said to Father O’Sullivan: ‘Would you oblige me in something, Father?’
Father O’Sullivan had been eating in silence, his eyes fixed more or less continuously on a devotional booklet. It was his mealtime habit. It took him a while to realise he had been spoken to, but when it penetrated he looked up and smiled pleasantly.
‘I’d rather Father Giffley were here . . . I should really ask him, but it’s urgent and quite important.’
‘Father Giffley is still unwell.’
Father O’Connor, immediately suspicious, regarded the other closely. Then he said, casually, ‘Really. Today again?’
‘I went to his room to enquire, but he said he would rather be left alone.’
‘Was the door locked?’ Father O’Connor asked.
‘I didn’t try,’ the other said, looking surprised.
Father O’Connor paused. Then he said, in a confiding tone: ‘It might have been wiser to do so.’
‘I asked him if he would like a doctor, but he assured me it was unnecessary.’
Remembering other sessions behind locked doors and other refusals of his superior to leave his room, Father O’Connor pushed his plate roughly aside.
‘Are you so blind, Father,’ he asked, ‘do you not know as well as I do what is wrong with our Parish priest?’
‘He is not strong, the poor man,’ Father O’Sullivan said. Then, in almost the same tone, he added: ‘But you wanted my assistance, Father?’
This large, guileless man was either a saint or a humbug, Father O’Connor decided.
‘I would like you to take benediction for me this evening,’ Father O’Connor said, controlling himself, ‘I have some personal business.’
‘I shall be glad to, Father.’
Father O’Sullivan smiled. His soutane, with its faded, green-streaked sheen, its frayed cuffs and buttonholes that gaped loosely from long use, might have been the parish clerk’s second best, the one he did the heavy work in and from which he removed the dribbles of candle grease by scraping them with a knife. The booklet propped against the sugar bowl irritated Father O’Connor too. It was a gaudy-covered production dealing with the devotion to the Sacred Heart. But it intrigued him.
‘May I trouble you for the sugar, Father?’
‘Forgive me—how selfish.’
The Faith for The Family: ‘A series for the instruction of the Faithful simply rendered by “A Catholic Priest”, and approved by . . .’
As he had guessed, a popular concoction, aimed at the uneducated. But perhaps Father O’Sullivan was preparing a simple sermon. Or was he—at the unexpected thought Father O’Connor almost upset the sugar bowl—was he, perhaps, the anonymous priest who wrote them?
Yearling left his luggage at Westland Row Station and went across the street to the Grosvenor. There was a barmaid there he admired. In his hand he carried his two fishing rods, a green-heart and a split cane, both too precious to be left out of sight. After the serene quiet of Connemara, with its reed-grown lakes and blue, remote hills, the streets seemed more than usually airless. He dodged a hackney cab, winced at the rattle of trams and found the pavement. Almost immediately a hungry wretch thrust a collecting box under his nose. Yearling examined the letters on the side. They said: ‘Jim Larkin Defence Fund’. Mr. Yearling, with a magnanimous flourish, dropped in a shilling. He bowed when the man raised his cap.
Feeling much better, he entered the hotel and rang the bell. It was answered by an unfamiliar female. Disappointed, he asked her for a large Irish.
‘Yes, sir. Will you be wanting soda as well?’ He decided she was bulgy and unprepossessing.
‘Good God, no.’
The startled girl withdrew. She came back with whiskey and a small, stone jug containing water.
‘Where’s Rose?’ Yearling asked. He measured carefully the quantity of water.
‘What do you mean—gone? Has she left?’
‘More or less, sir.’
The reply displeased him.
‘How much more than less?’ he snapped.
‘I beg your pardon, sir?’
‘Was she sacked?’ Yearling barked.
The girl jumped and said: ‘She was, sir.’
‘And why?’ He bunched his bushy eyebrows at her, terrifying her.
‘Miss Harrigan thought she made a bit free with the gentlemen, sir.’
‘I wouldn’t call that a fault—would you?’
‘I don’t know, sir.’
‘Never mind. Please bring me the morning paper. And another whiskey.’
The girl went off. Yearling sipped his drink and listened in a melancholy mood to the constant clip-clop of hooves outside the wide uncurtained window, missing the pretty face of Rose and the pleasure of making her laugh with his drolleries. He opened his paper and read it over his second whiskey until it seemed time to go back to the station for his train to Kingstown. When he was paying her he asked her name.
‘That’s a song,’ Yearling told her. ‘“Alice, Where Art Thou?” Pretty air. I hope you won’t disappoint the respected Miss Harrigan.’
She laughed and delighted him by venturing, shyly. ‘Sure what harm is a bit of gas, sir.’
‘That’s the ticket,’ he boomed at her. As they laughed together he began to see that she was pretty, after all. For her show of spirit he tipped her a shilling and went out in better humour.
At the entrance to the station he stood courteously aside to let a figure in clerical dress go first and discovered, with an exclamation of pleasure, that it was Father O’Connor.
‘My dear friend.’
Startled by the bellow, Father O’Connor swung round. He came to a standstill.
‘This is unexpected . . .’ he began.
Yearling pumped inordinately at his extended hand while he asked: ‘Are you going to Kingstown?’
Father O’Connor was.
‘Excellent,’ Yearling said. ‘So am I.’
Father O’Connor found it necessary to excuse himself while he went to the booking office. They rejoined each other and when the gateman had checked each ticket and raised his cap with great respect to Father O’Connor they searched out an empty carriage and took their seats. Conversation proved difficult. Clouds of steam, hissing upwards, coiled and were trapped under the great glass awning. Father O’Connor saw Yearling’s lips moving, but could not catch what he was saying. He had to raise his voice as though he were in the pulpit and say: ‘I beg your pardon?’
‘Milkcans,’ Yearling shouted.
Father O’Connor looked puzzled.
Yearling shouted: ‘I said I have never entered this station yet but they were shifting milkcans—millions of damned milkcans.’
Father O’Connor leaned towards the window, smiled and nodded. Porters were rolling the empty cans from one end of the platform to the other. The din was ear-splitting. It was a relief when the coaches jerked and bumped and the train moved slowly towards open day. Sunshine came leaping into the carriage, the backyards with their lines of washing slipped past, there was motion and peacefulness. In the basin by Boland’s Mill, an old-time schooner lay to. Near one bank, where green reeds leaned in delicate clusters above their own reflections, three swans rested.
‘What a beautiful picture,’ Father O’Connor said.
‘A serene and beguiling lie,’ Yearling answered. Father O’Connor looked surprised. Yearling, with unexpected gravity, said:
‘I sometimes despair of this city of ours.’
‘I work in its back streets every day and when I lie down to sleep I am conscious of its squalor being on my doorstep. But I don’t despair.’
‘You have one eye fixed on heaven,’ Yearling said, ‘try looking at it with both eyes sometimes.’
‘I assure you I’ve looked at it closely.’ Father O’Connor spoke the truth. He did not despair. But there were days after days of depression, of feeling lost in a nightmare. The excuse of business or good manners brought him now and then to the Bradshaws. They were welcome retreats.
‘What do you think of Larkin’s sentence?’
A little confused at what appeared to be a sudden change of subject, Father O’Connor hesitated before asking: ‘Has he been sentenced?’
‘To twelve months with hard labour, it’s in today’s paper.’ Yearling held out the paper he had been reading over his whiskey.
Father O’Connor, remembering having bought a paper himself at some stage, searched vaguely and found it stuck in his pocket, unopened and, until now, completely forgotten.
‘I hadn’t seen it,’ he explained.
‘Savage,’ Yearling pronounced.
Father O’Connor spread out his hands.
‘If he was dishonest . . .’ he began.
‘He collected money from one city and gave it to the wretches who were on strike in another. The only case against him is that the money should have been sent on first to Liverpool. Where’s the dishonesty?’
‘It was irregular . . .’ Father O’Connor suggested.
‘If it was, who are collecting for his defence? The very people he’s accused of defrauding. One of them shook a box under my nose less than an hour ago.’
That was what Timothy Keever had told him. Fitzpatrick had been collecting for Larkin—he remembered now. ‘I haven’t followed the trial very closely.’ As he said so he remembered a detail which had shocked him early on. It was a newspaper interview in which Mr. Sexton, the general secretary who had come over from Liverpool to give evidence against Larkin, confessed that he had had to go through the streets armed with a revolver.
‘They’ve bungled,’ Mr. Yearling said, ‘and bungled badly. First they delay the trial for two years. Now they convict him on a technicality and give him twelve months’ hard. They’re determined to make a popular martyr of the most dangerous man of our time. They’ll have the dregs of the city flocking to him.’
‘They seem to be flocking to him already,’ Father O’Connor said.
‘That is no reason why the law should become his recruiting sergeant.’
‘Is that what you meant when you said you despair of the city?’
‘I despair of the law and the Government,’ Yearling confessed, ‘and of the men who are supposed to be my business colleagues. They’re fools—all of them.’
They had stopped at Booterstown. On their left the tide was advancing towards the wall, a thin edge of foam along its border. A light breeze found its way into the carriage. It tasted of salt. Looking across towards Howth Hill, Father O’Connor said: ‘Men bungle and make mistakes. But you must at least agree that the city is beautiful.’
‘It depends on where you live and how much you earn, doesn’t it?’
‘I think we are talking of different things.’
‘What is your answer to poverty?’ Yearling challenged. He was not yet prepared to leave the subject alone.
Father O’Connor sighed and after a moment of reflection said: ‘From those who have wealth, charity for the sake of God; from those who suffer poverty, resignation for His sake also.’
‘Marx has a different answer. He says the expropriators must be expropriated. That means me,’ Yearling pointed out.
‘We condemn socialism, of course.’
‘I have read your condemnations, Father. But for all their hat-raising to you, I am beginning to doubt that they will always listen to you. Does that sound offensive?’
‘Not at all. We’ve pointed out already that Larkin is a dangerous man; he’s a self-professed socialist. He doesn’t hesitate to criticise the priests, yet the people still help him and listen to him.’
‘And you will leave it like that?’
‘I am not the Hierarchy,’ Father O’Connor said, with a modest smile. ‘My duty is to be obedient.’
‘You broke Parnell,’ Yearling suggested.
‘I wonder did we?’ Father O’Connor said. ‘Do you not think it was his own party that broke him? After all, many of the people continued to follow him.’
‘You condemned him,’ Yearling insisted. ‘Yet, as you say, many of the people remained loyal to him. They didn’t listen to you—that’s my point.’
Did Yearling speak with sympathy of Parnell because he, like the fallen chief, was a Protestant. Why was he questioning about Larkin? Did he wish the Church to condemn openly and at once? Or was it possible that Larkin’s methods had his sympathy? Surely not. If the Church commanded absolute obedience Yearling would say the country was priest-ridden; if it did not he would taunt the Church for its failure. A note of sadness crept into Father O’Connor’s voice as he answered, generally:
‘There are other, more important matters in which they sometimes do not listen to us either. That is why we have to spend so much of our time hearing confessions.’
To his surprise Yearling began to laugh.
‘Have I said something amusing?’
‘You are like all the others of your cloth,’ Yearling explained. ‘I point out the very real threat of social revolution to you and you are only concerned about it because it may, perhaps, be a sin.’
‘Surely,’ Father O’Connor said earnestly, ‘that is the only thing which is worth being concerned about.’
At Kingstown Father O’Connor was persuaded to agree to drop in on Yearling when he had concluded his visit to the Bradshaws. They parted. Father O’Connor allowed himself the pleasure of a walk along the front. The elegance of the houses pleased him, the frequent carriages, the manifestations of polite living. It was a world in which he had once held an honoured place. He turned into the back streets, where the passage of a couple of years had left their less kindly traces. Mr. Bradshaw’s set of houses near the harbour, he discovered, were now in need of support and had great beams slanting against them to prop the front walls. But their poverty was not like that of the central city; their squalor kept itself to itself. The township remained elegant.
He refused Mrs. Bradshaw’s invitation to stay for dinner, and explained that he was already committed. As an alternative she was happy to have him accept tea and scones. She hoped he was contented still in his parish and wondered why he seemed to have abandoned the relief fund idea. She had thought it such an excellent one. Father O’Connor explained that it had not proved so straightforward a matter as, in his early enthusiasm, he had believed it to be. He would not vex her with details. She thought his uneasiness was a sign that their efforts had fallen short of his expectations. He assured her that that was not the case.
‘Our help was so small it wasn’t worth while,’ she suggested.
‘Everything is worth while,’ Father O’Connor insisted, ‘even the smallest thing we do.’
‘I’ve often thought of visiting myself,’ Mrs. Bradshaw confided, ‘but my husband is very much against it.’
‘He is right,’ Father O’Connor said.
‘And Miss Gilchrist. I’d like to speak to her even for half an hour.’
Father O’Connor insisted that it was out of the question. He told her again about the kind of place it was, about the inmates, their coarseness, the overpowering combination of age and ignorance and illness. Mrs. Bradshaw would find it too distressing.
‘Is she very ill?’ Mrs. Bradshaw asked.
‘Last week there seemed little hope for her. But on Sunday she seemed as well as ever.’
‘She was always very strong,’ Mrs. Bradshaw said. She seemed to be considering something. In order not to intrude, he took his time putting milk and sugar in his tea, stirring it, tasting it. He was glad he did so. Her next question led without embarrassment towards the topic he had come to discuss.
‘When they die,’ Mrs. Bradshaw asked, ‘what are the arrangements?’
He chose his sentences carefully.
‘The relatives are notified—if there are any. If there are and they claim the body they have the option of making the customary funeral arrangements—at their own personal expense, of course.’
‘And if there are no relatives?’
‘In that case, I’m afraid, it’s an institutional burial in a pauper’s grave.’
‘I shouldn’t like that to happen to Miss Gilchrist,’ Mrs. Bradshaw said.
Father O’Connor saw that the moment had come when he should be frank.
‘She spoke to me about it last Sunday. The thought seems to be constantly at the back of her mind. It has made her very unhappy—so unhappy that she asked me, as a great favour, to mention it to you.’
His words so affected Mrs. Bradshaw that he wondered for a moment if he had been too brutal and direct, if he had assaulted her feelings instead of appealing to her charity. She set his mind at rest almost at once.
‘I’m very glad you told me this. Please let Miss Gilchrist know that if I’ve failed the living I’ll at least do my duty by the dead.’
She began to weep. They were the tears of a kind-hearted woman and they distressed him greatly. It was not her fault that Miss Gilchrist had been cast off.
‘You are very generous,’ he offered. It was the best he could think of.
‘We should have looked after her ourselves. She was such a loyal poor soul—and she was with us so long.’
‘Your husband had to be practical.’
‘Do we fulfil our obligations by being practical all the time?’ she asked.
Her bitter tone caught him on the wrong foot. He had only meant to console, not to begin a discussion on the morality of a dismal affair. The main thing was she was prepared to meet Miss Gilchrist’s wishes.
‘I’ll tell Miss Gilchrist. It will make her very happy. And grateful.’
‘For so little?’
‘It is not by any means little,’ he said, earnestly.
‘It seems so to me.’
‘I assure you it isn’t. You are a generous woman. You must stop reproaching yourself. And you must not blame your husband.’
‘He is not to know,’ she interrupted quickly. ‘Please don’t mention anything to him.’
This mild woman surprised him. He had thought her incapable of bitterness, an imperturbable woman at the centre of a small, smoothly enamelled world. Yet she criticised her husband and was prepared to disobey him because in her heart she felt a greater power at work. He knew how hard that must be for her, a woman shaped—to the raising of a teacup—by the conventions of her class.
‘You need have no fear,’ he told her, in his quietest and most reassuring tone.
Then, to ease her mind further, he told of his call on Mary. She questioned him about Mary’s circumstances, her husband, her children. He began to understand how lonely and unhappy she was, this woman without children of her own who brooded too much over the misfortunes of those for whom she felt the tug of responsibility. She did not brush shoulders often enough with reality to know that these were commonplace hardships. There was nothing to be done about them that Father O’Connor could see, except to suffer them with patience and to offer, where possible, some negligible but well-intentioned relief. Her kindness impressed him, but he was glad, nevertheless, when he could look at the clock and say, without lying, that it was really time to go if he was to spare a little while for Mr. Yearling before getting back to the duties of his parish.
Hennessy, about to climb the steps to 3 Chandlers Court, heard the tin whistle and cocked his head to listen. The notes, creeping from behind the basement window, shaped a slow air that was barely audible, although the street was enjoying one of its rare interludes of quietness. Where were the men? Hennessy wondered. Where were the women, the children, the dogs that should have been searching the gutter with noses nursing the remote hope of something edible? Off to gape at some moment’s diversion, he decided; off to follow a German band, maybe, or a parade of military passing on its way to join a ship. It was disappointing. There was no one to pass on his news to, no one standing on any of the steps, no one leaning against a lamp-post; only a street in the evening sunlight and a melancholy air meandering down its emptiness. The basement window had no glass in it. Instead, pieces of cardboard filled in its frame, leaving a small panel at the top for light and air.
‘Rashers,’ he shouted.
The air continued. It was slow; it was a personal, unorganised kind of air that could meander on for ever. Hennessy saw a stone, stooped for it, then let it fly at the window. It made a sharp sound on the cardboard. For a moment the melody broke off, then started again. Irritated, Hennessy searched once more. He found a larger stone which hopped back off the cardboard and fell into the area space with a thud. The music stopped abruptly and a voice from inside yelled in anger.
‘Who flung that?’
‘Rashers,’ Hennessy shouted again.
‘Go home, you little bowsie. Flinging stones at a decent man’s window. I know you. I’ll tell your mother—honest to God I will.’
‘It’s me, Hennessy.’
‘Wouldn’t you think you’d have more sense at your age,’ Rashers yelled.
‘I want to talk to you.’
‘You could knock at the bloody door.’
‘A bit of news.’
‘Like a bloody Christian. That cardboard cost money.’
‘Come on up,’ Hennessy invited, ‘I want a word with you.’
He sat on the steps. The stone under his skinny behind felt warm. The day had been good. He had spent it travelling between the office of Bates & Sons, Contractors, in Merchants Lane and a gang of men who were working in Phoenix Park. Twice he had pushed a handcart across the city to them with supplies. But he had taken his time, pausing when he wanted to watch anything of interest, enjoying the sunlight, happy to have a few weeks’ work as a runner. Two rosy spots on his normally sallow face showed the benefit of good weather and exercise. He took a cigarette from his waistcoat pocket, lit it with an air of luxury and waited. When Rashers joined him he had the tin whistle still in his hands.
‘What’s the commotion?’ Rashers asked, taking a seat beside him.
‘Where’s everybody gone?’
‘To hell, for all I know.’
‘Not even a stray cat . . .’
‘Or out of their minds for the want of sense.’
Rashers absentmindedly raised the tin whistle to his lips.
‘Don’t start on that again,’ Hennessy appealed.
‘You’re unmusical as well as being a bowsie,’ Rashers commented.
‘It was a sad sort of tune you were playing.’
‘I was thinking,’ Rashers said. He laid the whistle aside.
‘Have a cigarette,’ Hennessy invited. He drew one from a packet of Woodbines and passed it over to Rashers, who said:
‘Thanks be to God someone’s earning,’ and lit it.
‘Are you in a bad way?’
‘I’ll get the missus to send down one of the kids with a few cuts of bread and a cup of tea,’ Hennessy promised.
‘You’re earning, then?’
‘A few weeks.’
‘It makes all the difference,’ Rashers said.
Summer was now his bad time. Father O’Connor no longer needed a boilerman. There were too many beggars. People like the Gaelic League and the Larkinites, the St. Finbar’s Hurling and Football Club or the charitable societies were all joining in the competition for stray pennies. Besides, he was not as good at the walking as he had been. It was his chest. Sometimes in the heat he found it hard to get air into his lungs. Often he had to stop, his hand against a wall for support, while he struggled to breathe.
‘That’s what I was thinking about,’ Rashers said, not knowing that so far he had said nothing to Hennessy of what he was thinking about.
‘What was that?’
‘I’m getting the bronchitis bad.’
‘The weather will soon fix that up.’
‘I wouldn’t be too sure. Look at King Edward. Weather or no weather, it bloodywell killed him.’
‘His heart was bad,’ Hennessy consoled.
‘And what’s to stop my heart getting bad?’ Rashers asked in a reasonable tone. Finding he had silenced Hennessy, Rashers dragged the cigarette and offered:
‘If a fellow only had a bit of capital he could set himself up comfortable enough.’
‘That’s right,’ Hennessy said. ‘I often thought myself if I had enough to buy an old ass and cart I’d be made.’
‘What would you do?’
‘Removals. Or selling coal blocks—there’s good profit in coal blocks.’
‘You’d have to hump all them sacks up all them stairs. Up and down and up and down all day. What I’d do is buy a barrel-organ and a monkey,’ Rashers said. ‘There’s great money in it and only a modicum of exertion.’
‘Monkeys is very hard to rear. I knew a man was put out of business by it. Three of them in a row kicked the bucket on him.’
Mary, sitting at the open window above them, heard the exchange and leaned out to identify them. She recognised Rashers first. He came in and out at such odd hours and kept so much to himself that she seldom saw him. Whenever she did she thought of the coloured favours and the blood on his mouth.
‘There’s a catch in everything,’ Rashers said, when he had considered the triple tragedy.
Nothing ever worked out. You went up with your tin whistle to a polo match in the Park, expecting a crowd, and found there was a reception at the Castle or cricket in Trinity College. The theatre queues were overworked and, worse still, overwatched by policemen.
‘There’s nothing but bloody beggars in this misfortunate town,’ he complained, ‘and what’s more, the half of them is illegitimate beggars, a crowd of amateurs with boxes for the Jim Larkin Defence Collection. It makes shocking inroads on the Rashers Tierney Fund.’
‘You won’t be troubled much longer from that quarter,’ Hennessy told him. ‘Larkin got twelve months’ hard today. That’s the news I had for you.’
‘Holy God—you’re codding me.’
‘Here’s the very man will tell you.’
Fitz had turned the corner. They watched his approach, but when he came abreast of them and climbed the steps he passed them with a nod. He had a collection box under one arm.
‘That’s another that’s in on the collection box act,’ Rashers said.
‘If I was you,’ Hennessy advised, ‘I’d make up another ballad. About Larkin going to gaol.’
‘Do you think they’d like it?’
‘They’ve gone so mad about Larkin now,’ Hennessy assured him, ‘they’d get down on their knees to lick it off the streets. That’s what I wanted to suggest to you.’
‘You’re a man of unusual sagacity,’ Rashers told him, admiringly. He began to finger the tin whistle again. Already his mind was at work. He was thinking hard. Hennessy, catching sight of Mulhall and Pat Bannister, rose and went down the street to join them.
Mary arranged a meal of bread and stew on the table while Fitz left the collection box on the dresser and went into the kitchenette to wash. When he was working she could manage, with difficulty, to provide three meals a day. They had tea and bread for breakfast and supper. The main meal followed a pattern she had picked up from the wiser among the older women—meat on Sundays, cold scraps on Monday, stew on Tuesday. On Wednesdays and Fridays she got herrings cheap. She usually managed to have bread and potatoes. Several times in their few years of marriage they had gone to bed hungry. It took a long time to recover from a strike, to pay off grocers, to clear themselves with moneylenders. She herself was always the first to go short and the arrival of the children made it harder. She watched them as carefully as she could. Whatever else suffered she had tried to give them fresh milk all the time, but once or twice she had found it necessary to water down the condensed milk for them, despite the advice of the doctor in the hospital. Advice was one thing—finding money another. When Fitz returned and sat down she took a little of the food herself and said to him: ‘I had a visitor today.’
‘Not Mrs. Hennessy again?’
Every other day Mrs. Hennessy came to borrow something—a sprinkle of salt, a few spoons of tea or sugar.
‘You’ll never guess,’ she challenged.
It was seldom she had news. She smiled, waiting for him to question her.
He thought and then said: ‘His Excellency, the Governor General.’
‘You’re not even trying.’
Because she wanted him to guess he made an effort, but after some further thought he said: ‘I give up.’
The news was unexpected. With satisfaction she saw him lay down his knife and fork. Then he said, critically, ‘It’s taken him long enough to find his way.’ He had never forgotten Father O’Connor’s advice to Keever.
‘He came about Miss Gilchrist. She’s in the workhouse.’
‘So that’s where they put her.’ He said it grimly. They had often wondered about her.
‘How long is she there?’
‘Over two years, he tells me. He wants me to visit her. I was thinking of going on Sunday.’
‘Of course,’ he said. ‘I’ll mind the youngsters.’
‘You won’t have a meeting or anything?’
‘I’ll mind them whether I have or not,’ he promised.
‘She always liked a pinch of snuff,’ Mary remembered, ‘I’ll bring her some.’
He nodded. She wondered what he had been doing all day. Walking the main streets with a box in his hand, sticking it under people’s noses, being told to move on by policemen, who were always ready to make trouble. She found it hard to understand what attracted him in the speechmaking and the upheavals or to see the sense in strikes which always lasted too long and brought too little in the end. It seemed more sensible to take the steady work when it was going and leave the quarrels to others. There were children now to suffer. But she said nothing of that to him either. He knew his own mind and she trusted him to do what was best. It was not her business. She took her empty plate to the dresser and as she shifted the collection box she noticed its weight.
‘You did well today,’ she remarked.
‘They sentenced him to twelve months this morning,’ he said. ‘The whole city is on our side since the news came out—even the silk hats. We’re having a protest march tonight.’
She heard his plate being pushed aside and went over to take it.
‘Are you going?’
‘I couldn’t miss it.’
That meant he would go on straight to the job. He was on night work.
‘I’ll make up your supper for you before I wash the dishes,’ she said, accepting his decision without comment.
He went over to sit at the window, which she had opened at the bottom. On summer evenings they often sat there together, watching the skies growing darker, listening to the life of the street. It was not possible any more to go walking on the strand or swimming together, because of the children. They had tried to get a pram, but there was always something else to be bought first. She tried not to mind. In a way it brought them closer together. While she was making up his supper parcel he said:
‘It was very quiet when I came in. What happened to everybody?’
‘Two policemen were taking a drunken sailor down to his ship. The whole street went off to gape.’
‘I’m surprised Hennessy wasn’t with them.’
‘He was late for it,’ she said, laughing.
He rose again and went into the bedroom, opening the door quietly so as not to waken the children. Almost immediately the room became lonely. He had left his cap beside the collection box and she touched it gently for no conscious reason. She hoped Mulhall was going with him to the protest march. Mulhall was huge and capable. If they stayed together Fitz would be safe. She heard him entering again and found she was holding his cap. He was amused.
‘Are you going out?’ he asked.
‘The dresser is no place for it,’ she said, pretending annoyance. He took it from her and pushed it into his pocket.
‘Nor your pocket,’ she added. He took it out again and placed it solemnly on her head.
‘Maybe you’d like to wear it yourself.’ He kissed her lightly and drew her over to the window.
‘I’m sorry to be going out tonight,’ he said. His voice was tender.
‘Will Mulhall be with you?’
‘He’s to call across for me.’
She said she didn’t mind.
They had half an hour together before Mulhall knocked at the door. Pat was with him. They had slogans painted on sheets of cardboard which they had mounted on sticks. Mulhall’s read: ‘Release Larkin’. Pat’s was general. It said: ‘Arise, Ye Slaves’.
‘What do you think of it?’ he asked, holding it up for inspection.
‘It has a Salvation Army smack about it,’ Fitz criticised.
‘We’d better hurry,’ Mulhall advised.
‘Onward Christian soldiers,’ Pat said.
‘I’ll be after you,’ Fitz promised.
They left. Mary gave him his supper parcel and pressed her cheek against his.
‘Watch yourself,’ she said, earnestly, ‘don’t go where there might be trouble.’
She looked down at the three of them from the window. They stepped out strongly together and were joined on their way by another neighbour. The boards with their painted slogans lent them an air of unfamiliarity. She felt a distance growing between her and them that was greater than the street’s. She stood, the loneliness creeping out from every part of the room. In the flat above a door banged, sending a tremor through the floorboards. She heard the baby beginning to cry and went in to it.
‘Won’t do you a bit of harm,’ Yearling assured him. He left his ’cello lying on one side, placing the bow carefully along it.
‘Well, then . . . but very little.’
It would be his third glass of port, an unprecedented gluttony for Father O’Connor. But Yearling was persuasive and, besides, the evening had been pleasant. Rising from the piano, he went over to the window while Yearling found the bottle of port. The windows looked out on a long, well-kept garden.
“I’ll have whiskey myself,’ he heard Yearling say, from somewhere behind him. ‘It goes better with the last of the day.’ Then he heard him say, ‘Do, please sit down.’
‘I mustn’t delay too long,’ Father O’Connor answered. He sat down, just the same. The piano was an excellent instrument. It had been such a pleasure to play on it. There was none in St. Brigid’s and he had not gone near the harmonium there since his difference with Father Giffley. Yearling, too, had acquitted himself admirably.
‘You play very well,’ he said, still looking at the garden. Shadows lay across it and the night dew was already settling. If he walked down it the grass would keep the imprint of his feet. A good dinner, an hour’s music, a little wine. He was far away now from Father Giffley’s hostility, Father O’Sullivan’s frayed soutanes and common-or-garden mind, from the straw on the floor and the candles in bottles. Here summer came to shed grace and beauty where houses and gardens received her condescendingly, as they would a favoured entertainer. The windows wore tasselled shades, the doors had gay canvas covers to protect their paintwork; ladies with parasols welcomed her as they strolled along the front. Father O’Connor, made daring by the wine, remembered their earlier discussion and put his mood into a question.
‘I omitted to ask what was your answer to poverty?’ He heard the clink of a glass as Yearling moved something and almost immediately his good-natured laugh.
‘Man will conquer poverty just as he will conquer the problems of disease and war—by his own determination and intelligence.’
‘I don’t know what you mean by Christianity,’ Yearling said. ‘There are too many brands of it.’
‘Without God, shall I say.’
‘The spirit which informs mankind may be of God—I think it probably is; but what God I cannot say.’ Yearling handed him his glass of port and sat opposite to him. ‘Can you?’ he added.
‘Without any shadow of doubt.’
‘It doesn’t seem to make you any happier.’
‘Because I am not happy about what I see,’ Father O’Connor confessed suddenly.
He had not meant to say it. The sentiment surprised himself. It was the port, perhaps; it was the shadowed garden and its gathering in to itself all the sadness of the fading evening; it was the music, the Bach Arioso Yearling had played so tenderly on his ’cello, and the profound deliberation of the accompaniment which had sounded so well on the excellent piano.
‘You have a hard life,’ Yearling said, with uncharacteristic gentleness.
‘At this moment an old lady who is dying is unhappy because she does not know how she is to be buried. Tomorrow, thank God, I’ll be able to set her mind at rest.’
‘That, at least, is a reason for happiness.’
‘She is only one. What of the others?’
Yearling shrugged at that and said: ‘I don’t care a damn who buries me.’
‘You were never so destitute that the only piece of property you ever owned was your poor body.’
‘If I died,’ Yearling said, ‘I’d be going where the needs of the body didn’t matter any more. Certainly I’d rather not know who was going to bury me than wonder how I was going to live.’
‘There are so many like that too.’
‘And you feel sorry for them?’
Yearling’s moment of gentleness had passed.
‘Every time I think about them,’ he said, ‘which on average is about once every two years.’
‘You thought about them today.’
‘In times of upheaval. They may yet come out of their hovels in search of a better living—all together, a visitation from the locusts.’
‘After Larkin, perhaps?’
‘Very likely, if today’s sentence is indicative of the enlightened medicine we can expect the law to prescribe.’
‘I’ve been thinking a little about that since you spoke to me.’
Yearling was pleased.
‘So. You see the danger—I mean the social danger, not the spiritual.’
‘I walked past Mr. Bradshaw’s houses today. He has propped them up with wooden supports.’
‘You mustn’t blame him,’ Yearling said. ‘His tenants don’t earn enough to pay an economic rent, unless he crams them six in a room. Even that doesn’t leave him enough for major repairs.’
‘I haven’t blamed him at all,’ Father O’Connor said, ‘he’s not exceptional.’
Yearling tasted his whiskey and, in the half-light that lay about them, took in the sad, white face of the man he had been playing music with. In spite of the tired lines and the pallor, the face was ridiculously young. Did celibacy keep them that way? Or holiness? They read a lot of intellectual stuff which ought at least to give the eyes the set of learning. It had left no mark on this man. Nor had music. He was certainly musical. Tomorrow morning, the fingers that had been so competent on the keyboard and were now white about the stem of the wine-glass would break the wafer that they believed was the Body of Christ. If it was, how could they bear to break it. Cr-a-a-ck. Just like that. Yearling knew. The girl he had known in London had been a Catholic. He had seen for himself.
‘Shall we play some more music?’
‘There’s nothing I’d love more, but I really must watch the time.’
‘You’re not drinking your wine.’
‘I’m not used to it.’
‘Don’t you have it every morning?’
Father O’Connor’s understanding grasped the point slowly. ‘It’s not quite the same thing,’ he said. He spoke with difficulty. A great gap had opened between them, of which only he was aware. Yearling, faintly smiling in the twilight, relished his whiskey. It was loneliness, then. And for ever. No company in the Bradshaws, whom he admired only for good taste and smooth manners, none in Father Giffley, whom he tried hard not to despise or Father O’Sullivan who had a dull mind, none in the ragtag and bobtail of his parish, for whom he had a dutiful love which shrank at every physical contact. And in Yearling, below a now more clearly understood level, no companionship. No real understanding between himself and the poor, or between the world of poverty and the world of comfort. He had left a gracious way of life to do what his heart told him was God’s will, and all he had found so far was disrespect, humiliation, an inner disgust. The devil worked more successfully than he, and the people looked to agitators for deliverance. He had been on the point of telling Yearling about that, of expressing a little of his aloneness and disappointment. Now it was impossible. His unhappiness grew until it became physically painful.
‘I’ll play for thirty minutes,’ he said. It would stop the ache, a temporary sedative. Unintentionally he emptied his third glass of wine.
‘Excellent,’ Yearling said, moving for his ’cello. On his way he rang for lamps. He was nervous of gas and electricity had not yet attracted his consideration.
They jammed the street in front of the station, a jumble of torches and banners, a tightly packed array that had generated a soul and a mind of its own, capable of response only to simple impulses, able to move itself, to emit a cry, to swing right or left, to stop altogether. They had come out en masse from the hovels and tenements, disrupting traffic, driving the respectable off the sidewalks. Their sudden arrogance was astonishing. Here and there Father O’Connor recognised a face. He stood on the steps leading down to the exit, knowing it was useless to try to pass through. The dizzy feeling which had made him so uncomfortable in the train attacked him again. It was dark, yet the street seemed unusually bright and certain faces seemed larger than others. He recognised Fitzpatrick, whom he had known for a long time, without pretending to; he knew the big man who walked by his side; he knew Rashers and the sickly little man who kept him company. ‘Release Larkin’ the banners said. ‘Arise, Ye Slaves’. They turned confusingly this way and that above the shoulders that bore them. The flaring torches were a melodramatic touch and, he thought, dangerous. He wondered how they were made. He stood with the other passengers on the steps—behind him the station where gas-lamps with pendant chains spread a sickly light between the platform and the soot-blackened canopy—in front of him the mob, the torches, the banners.
‘Stick close to me,’ Rashers advised.
Hennessy, already pressed painfully against him by the pressure of bodies, his arms pinioned and his hat coming down over his eyes, answered obscenely. It was a rare thing in Hennessy.
‘I’m surprised at you,’ Rashers said. He had the whistle under his coat and wrapped around it the paper with the words of his new ballad.
‘Wait’ll I sing my song for them,’ he said.
‘You’ll never be able to sing in this mob.’
‘Then what the hell are we getting walked on for?’
‘To be ready with the song when they reach Beresford Place before the speechifying starts.’
‘Did you see who was on the station steps?’
‘Give over gasbagging. I’m putting the words through my mind.’
Rashers, disturbed by the information, hesitated for a moment and was trampled on immediately. When he had released his feelings in a flow of bad language he asked:
‘Did he see us?’
‘How do I know?’
‘If he did I’ll never get the job back.’
‘Of course you’ll get the job back.’
‘The clergy is always giving out the pay about us socialists.’
This was news to Hennessy.
‘I never knew you were a friend of the cause.’
‘In times of crisis,’ Rashers said, ‘I’m a stalwart.’
‘When there’s a bit of money to be made out of trials and tribulations, I suppose.’
‘As Bard of the Revolution,’ Rashers said, remembering Pat’s phrase.
They reached a street junction and the pressure eased. Those at the sides held back, then fell in ranks behind the main body, five or six abreast.
‘It’s a great turn-out,’ Mulhall said to Fitz. He was a mountain of satisfaction.
‘Half of them are gapers.’
‘Some of them will join up.’
‘Enough for our purpose.’
At least there had been a swing in public opinion. It was easy to judge that in the suddenly increased response to the collection boxes.
‘Maybe,’ Fitz said.
Mary would be by herself, looking down on the quiet back street, the room in half light about her because she would be saving oil by doing without the lamp. For him there was the excitement to keep the anxieties from growing too powerful. Tonight, when he felt the drag of the loaded shovel on his shoulders and the sweat trickling down his body, there would be the roar of the furnaces and at break times the conversation of his mates. She would be alone, with the two children of their marriage near at hand to keep doubt and fear in her heart.
‘They’ve been slow enough about joining,’ he added.
‘After this they’ll flock to us,’ Mulhall said. He was smiling and full of confidence.
At Beresford Place they formed into a meeting before the derelict block of buildings that had once been the Northumberland Commercial and Family Hotel. The torches went out one by one, night crept up the river and spread over the city. People in trains that passed from time to time across the loop-line bridge leaned out of windows to look down at the packed street while for some moments the speaker gesticulated and was unheard because of the trundling carriages. At half past eleven Fitz said to Mulhall:
‘I’d better move. I’m due in at twelve.’
Fitz worked his way slowly through the crowd, which was still dense. He was tempted to go home, to pick up on the sleep he had cut short in the daytime in order to walk the streets with his collection box, but he could not afford to lose a night’s pay.
Touching his pocket to feel if his supper was still there, he began to cross the bridge. To his left there were berthed ships, lying idle and deserted on the low tide. At the far end of the bridge a figure leaned on the parapet. At first he paid no attention, thinking it was a down-and-out or a drunk, using the parapet to rest against, but when he came abreast he realised that it was a priest. He went over and touched the shoulder.
‘Can I help you, Father?’
After a moment the other raised his head and looked around at him.
‘It’s nothing,’ Father O’Connor said, ‘a little turn.’ He had never spoken to Father O’Connor before. He thought it strange that he should meet him like this on the day the priest had decided to call on Mary.
‘I could get a cab for you.’
‘No . . . please.’ He hesitated. ‘I know you, I think—a parishioner.’
‘That’s it. Your wife, I think . . .’
Fitz made no offer to fill in the long pause.
‘I followed your meeting from the station and listened for a while. I began to feel unwell . . . the heat, probably.’
‘You should let me call a cab.’
‘No—I feel better in the air.’
‘Then let me walk back with you to the church.’
It would mean being late for work, and for a moment he hoped the other would refuse. But Father O’Connor accepted and said:
‘Thank you, that’s very kind of you.’
Fitz took his arm lightly. They walked in silence until they had left the river behind and were in the main thoroughfare once more. Father O’Connor released his arm and said he felt much better. Yet his face was drained of colour and he walked with a slight uncertainty.
‘I followed your meeting because I thought I might catch a glimpse of Mr. Larkin.’
‘He’s in gaol, Father.’
‘Yes, I know,’ Father O’Connor said, attempting a smile. ‘The extraordinary thing is I’ve known that since early afternoon.’
‘We’re trying to get him released.’
‘It’s an extraordinary thing,’ Father O’Connor said again. ‘I knew that and yet I followed with the idea . . .’ He stopped.
‘It was being unwell, I suppose. I was unwell and didn’t realise it. However, I’m much better now—thanks to you.’
‘You’re more than welcome, Father,’ Fitz said. They had reached the iron railings which cut off the courtyard of the church from the footpath. Fitz tried the side gate and found it open. He held it for the priest.
‘I’ve kept you from your home.’
‘Not at all, Father,’ Fitz said.
‘Do you often attend meetings of this kind?’
‘Whenever I can.’
Father O’Connor appeared to make a great effort of will.
‘You must be careful,’ he said. ‘There are men who pretend to have sympathy with the working men and the unemployed in order to win power for themselves—power for the socialists.’
‘I don’t know very much about these things, Father,’ Fitz said. He wanted to avoid an argument.
‘It’s an evil doctrine. You must be careful who you set up as your leaders.’
‘It isn’t difficult, Father. We haven’t had many to choose from,’ Fitz said. He was already late for work. The delay would cost him a quarter—three hours’ pay.
‘Guard your faith and listen only to those who honour it,’ Father O’Connor said. He spoke gently and, to Fitz, like one who was hearing his own voice from a distance. He looked very ill.
‘You should go in, Father,’ he urged.
‘Thank you,’ Father O’Connor said. His tone was warm. ‘Thank you very much indeed.’
Fitz raised his cap. His feet sounded loudly in the street. It was after midnight.
They arrived back at Chandlers Court within minutes of each other—first Rashers and Hennessy, then Mulhall alone.
‘You did well,’ Hennessy said in the hallway, ‘you did magnificent.’
‘One and threepence,’ Rashers agreed, with modesty.
‘I mean the ballad,’ Hennessy corrected. ‘It was a great success.’
‘Success is one thing,’ Rashers reminded him, ‘money is another.’
‘You got both.’
‘For once,’ Rashers allowed. He fumbled. ‘Have a cigarette.’
‘It’s too late.’
‘I took one from you out of your plenty. Now you take one of mine.’
‘I’ll take it upstairs with me.’
‘Bring it to bed with you if the fancy takes you that way.’
Hennessy pushed the cigarette behind his ear. It was pitch dark in the hall and there was an evil smell. Hennessy wrinkled his nose and sniffed.
‘Some bowsie did his what-you-know,’ he complained.
Rashers wasn’t squeamish.
‘It’s an old Dublin custom—there must have been a queue for the jakes.’
‘I can’t stand that,’ Hennessy said. ‘It’s the one thing I can’t abide.’
‘You worked in too many high-falutin’ houses—feeding yourself on grapes and delicacies.’
‘They were right at that meeting tonight. We live and die like animals. I’ll go on up. I can’t stick it.’
Rashers chuckled. As he was going he said:
‘Mind you don’t walk in it.’
Hennessy, his foot feeling out for the first rung of the stairs, froze for a moment. He picked his way delicately.
The door of Father Giffley’s bedroom opened and his voice called:
‘Father O’Sullivan . . .’
The corridor seemed unfamiliarly long. A gas-lamp at the far end, turned low, cast a blue half-light. Father O’Connor stopped.
‘It’s Father O’Connor,’ he managed after a while.
‘Oh—you.’ The voice changed. ‘Isn’t it rather late?’
With a great effort of will Father O’Connor pushed aside the temptation to ignore the question, to walk on to his bedroom and leave his superior standing there. For the moment he felt physically unable to bear up to criticism.
‘I was delayed.’
‘Please step into my room.’ Father Giffley had a dressing gown over his nightshirt and, incongruously, his priest’s biretta perched on his head. He seemed to have been reading. A black-covered book lay open, but face downwards, on a bedside chair.
‘Father O’Sullivan was obliged to go out on a sick call,’ he reproved. Father O’Connor should have been available. It was his duty period.
‘I felt unwell when I got off the train and did something quite unaccountable.’
‘There was a protest march—banners, slogans, torches; the street in front of the station was packed with them.’
‘Until this hour?’ Father Giffley commented. He smiled humourlessly.
‘They were demanding Larkin’s release. I followed them to their meeting place. There were socialists on their platform and they listened with respect and cheered them. I heard a vile diatribe from one of them against the Church. They cheered him. Later—I don’t remember how—I found myself standing on Butt Bridge.’
Father Giffley stared at him and then, knitting his brows, asked: ‘Have you been drinking?’
‘I haven’t that habit,’ Father O’Connor said. The contemptuous phrase escaped him before he could stop it. It stung his conscience. Besides, it was a lie. He cast around for some way to correct himself, to say he had taken a little wine, but had not been drinking in the sense implied by Father Giffley. It was too difficult. The room, like the corridor, had a bluish tint which made his stomach unwell. He narrowed his eyes so that he would see as little of it as possible. A wave of nausea made him tremble.
‘May I sit down?’ he asked.
Father Giffley, detecting the tremor, waved towards a chair and peered at him.
‘A bilious attack. You have a very bad colour,’ he pronounced.
‘Please forgive me if I . . .’
‘A small drop of brandy is what you need.’
Father O’Connor shook his head.
‘You look as though you could do with it.’ The voice had grown a shade kinder.
‘No—I think if I lie down . . .’
‘As you please.’ Father Giffley turned his back. The movement was formal, deliberate.
‘So you followed the rabble. That’s interesting. And singularly unlike you.’
The voice was no longer kind. There was a glass-fronted bookcase in front of Father Giffley. He stared at it, as though trying to locate something. Father O’Connor kept silence.
‘Why?’ his superior asked.
Quietly, the emotion of an earlier moment moving in him again, Father O’Connor said: ‘They are being led away from us.’
‘Did you imagine you could bring them back—even if they were?’
‘Please,’ Father O’Connor pleaded. ‘I must go to bed.’
‘By threatening to change them into goats. That day has passed. Do you know whose fault that is?’
‘I am not well enough to discuss . . .’
‘Ours,’ Father Giffley answered, swinging about suddenly, ‘because we’ve watched in silence while the others turned them into animals.’
‘The devil is at work among them.’
‘The devil is busy everywhere, always; at work on them and at work on the others. He was busy here all day too.’
Father Giffley paused. Then he said: ‘For once his efforts were not very profitable.’
Father O’Connor wondered was he speaking of himself. But he was too sick to care. ‘May I go to bed?’ he asked.
‘Don’t let me detain you,’ Father Giffley replied, lifting the black book from the chair and sitting down. As Father O’Connor closed the door he said, raising his voice slightly: ‘If you need help during the night, call out for me.’
At first it was a relief to get inside his own bedroom, but when he closed the door he began to feel he had walked into a tomb. The curtains were drawn, the window closed, it was completely dark. He crossed and opened a press, the wrong one. Some left-over tins of cocoa fell about the floor. He left them there. He felt unable to stoop. He found he had to stand quite still to remember where he was. He saw the placards twisting this way and that, white against the darkness, he saw the torches sparking and swaying, lurid red against the pitch darkness. He bumped against the bed, leaned heavily on it, heard the noise of its springs and groped with his free hand. He reached the chamber-pot in time to be violently and repeatedly sick. Then he knelt, his cheek against the coverings, until the trembling of his body ceased.
When he felt stronger he removed his collar and went over to draw the curtains and open the window. The sky above the church was a vast, night blue field, stars grew wild all over it, the breeze from the window touched his face with healing and coolness. It was a mild night of June, month of the Sacred Heart. The gardens of Kingstown would smell sweetly at this hour, full of flowers and leafy quiet. Along the coast, on miles and miles of fine wet shingle, about crusted rocks, against the wooden beams of piers, the sea was making night sounds, the tides building and turning in time with the laws of God who was the maker and regulator of all things. He had a sense of sin. Casting back over the day he remembered his lack of humility with the young woman who had once been a servant; the impatience that caused him to turn down Mrs. Bradshaw’s offer of hospitality; his three glasses of wine which, in him, might well count as intemperance; his delight in Yearling’s praise when he played well on the beautiful piano.
Troubled, he fingered his rosary and, leaning against the window jamb, his eyes fixed on the night sky, he began to pray—for his mother’s soul, for Miss Gilchrist, for each face that looked out at him from moment to moment as he examined his conscience and lived in retrospect through the events of the day. He remained so for almost half an hour until, his attention wavering, he became aware of the odour in the room. It was the smell of puke, of half-digested food and sour wine. Away from the window it was worse, an offensive and choking manifestation of infirmity, of uncleanness, of corruption. It was the wine then, that had made him sick.
He shrank from the ordeal of lifting the pot, but there was no help for it. Gingerly he opened the door and stole past Father Giffley’s room once again to the toilet on the upper landing. His stomach turned as he emptied the foul contents and rinsed out the remaining traces. He returned and got into bed, relieved that the unpleasant task was over and done with, relieved too that Father Giffley had not come into the corridor to investigate these latenight comings and goings. There were tins of some kind lying on the floor, he now remembered. Let them stay there.
He lay exhausted, yet sleepless. The retort he had made to Father Giffley returned several times to his mind: ‘I haven’t that habit, Father.’ He regretted it. He wished he could recall and erase it. He had been wrong in his earlier suspicions about the locked room. Father Giffley had been perfectly sober. As he watched the narrow strip of sky between the partly drawn curtains, accusing himself, asking for forgiveness, the meaning of Father Giffley’s phrase about the devil’s efforts not being very profitable—for once, suggested itself. Had he locked his door to shut out temptation? Had he called out for Father O’Sullivan because, at the end of the long day, from that simple, unnoticing man, there would flow the springs of consolation? ‘I haven’t that habit, Father.’ Had he asked for bread, and been given a stone?
Father O’Connor closed his eyes tightly, not in an effort to sleep, but the better to bear the self-accusation which desolated him.
In October, whenever he walked along the Vico Road, the hills rising at the back of the city reminded Yearling of Connemara. They were turning brown now under evenings of long, yellow sunsets. Often the green sea below him set him thinking of the miles and miles of water and waste; of England; of the too-faraway years of youth. One day, when Father O’Connor strolled with him, he said: ‘I am getting old.’
He stopped to lean for a moment on his cane. It was growing dusk. The sea had a strong, autumn smell. The air was damp.
‘Everybody does,’ Father O’Connor said, agreeably.
‘I begin to think that times are changing, that soon the world we knew will be finished and done with.’
‘There are new ideas,’ Father O’Connor admitted, ‘disturbing ideas, abroad. I feel it too and I’m younger than you are.’
‘And I begin to look back—to remember; that’s a bad sign.’ He knitted his heavy eyebrows and looked sharply at Father O’Connor.
‘Do you think I should have married?’ he asked.
‘There’s still time.’
‘I don’t think so—ah no.’
He sighed and began to walk again.
‘Still,’ he said, after a while, ‘celibacy was never suited to me. I don’t understand how you fellows manage.’
‘We win it by our own means. For some it is easy; for others—it is painfully hard.’
‘Is it the same with drink?’
‘You are confusing what is sinful and what may only be unseemly.’
‘Yes,’ Yearling admitted, ‘you are more broadminded about drink than our crowd. Still, I was jilted for drinking—did I ever tell you that? She was a Catholic too.’
‘Once, when we were playing music with Mr. and Mrs. Bradshaw, you hinted at something. It happened in England, I think?’
‘A long, long time ago. The sea there reminded me of it. I must tell you about it some time.’
‘If you are unhappy at times there are other ways of considering life. There may be a plan, or a reason . . .’
Yearling looked at him sharply.
‘Are you thinking of trying to convert me?’
Father O’Connor did not return the look. But he said: ‘If I thought I could I would not hesitate.’
‘And do you?’
‘It is God who converts . . . not bunglers such as I am.’
A little later Father O’Connor said: ‘When I spoke of drink as being unseemly I didn’t mean that it could not be sinful. It can. I’ve seen it become sinful and I’ve seen it lead to much human tragedy.’ He spoke generally. But he was thinking of Father Giffley.
October brought work for Rashers once again. He piled paper on the cold bars of the furnace, spread sticks and a dressing of coke. Then he lit the first fire of another season, building it to give a slow heat which he could control. For the first week it required attention at night-time, so he decided to sleep in the boiler house. On the Saturday night, when there was a corpse in the mortuary chapel above, he brought the dog and played music on the flageolet to keep himself company. The dog was a mistake. In the morning, when Father Giffley passed near the entrance, it gave a warning bark.
‘In the first week of the season I have to sleep here at night, Father,’ he said. ‘I keep a slow fire so as not to do damage to the pipes.’
‘And is the . . . dog . . . very useful?’
‘In the matter of company, Father.’
‘St. Francis and yourself would get on well together, I can see that.’
Father Giffley peered into the corners beyond the ring of candlelight. They were grimed with dust. The cobwebs looked solid.
‘Do you sleep on the coke?’
‘With a sack underneath.’
‘And it is comfortable?’
‘It could be worse.’
Father Giffley noted the familiar phrase. Everything could be worse.
‘It could, indeed.’
‘Only I noticed it’s inclined to bring on the bronchitis.’
‘That would be the dust,’ Father Giffley said.
‘I hope you don’t think bad of me bringing the dog, Father.’
‘We could deduct something for its board and lodging,’ Father Giffley suggested, smiling to himself. ‘What’s his name?’
Father Giffley bent down to the dog and said: ‘Here, Rusty, that’s the fellow, that’s the good doggie.’
The dog wagged its tail. It was a mangy-looking specimen, he thought, like its lord and master. Father Giffley wrinkled his forehead. He thought of a religious picture which had hung somewhere, of a saint who wept for his ox. The picture he remembered clearly—a great, bearded human face pressed in fellowship against the hairy face of the beast—but the saint’s name evaded him. Or—after all, was it called ‘The Peasant Weeps Over His Ox’? Father Giffley was unsure. He patted the dog’s head. Then he straightened and said:
‘You shouldn’t spend too much time in this place. The air is foul. Call into the housekeeper later—I’ll tell her to give you some breakfast, and some scraps for Rusty. Do you drink?’
‘Whenever good luck pushes a drop under my nose.’
‘I’ll tell her to give you a little something to take home.’
‘God bless you, Father.’
‘For your bronchitis, you understand,’ Father Giffley added.
He climbed the steps and went out into the air, which was mild. When he had seen the housekeeper he came back again, circled the courtyard a couple of times and then went out into the street. With his hands behind his back and his head bowed forward he pushed through the people who were on their way to mass. They parted for him. Some of them who greeted him were acknowledged with an inclination of the head, others he did not see. He passed under the railway bridge, through side streets which were so far from the church that people wondered to see a priest dressed only in his soutane. Here and there he stopped to talk to children who were playing hopscotch and skipping outside the tenements which occupied so large a part of his parish. He came to the riverside at last and remained leaning against a capstan for some time. To the right and left of him ships lay to. Sunday ships, deserted, he would believe, were it not for the smoke streaming up from the galleys. The cranes were still and the buckets empty. Behind him the bells of Sunday were clamouring throughout the city, marking the arrival of each half-hour. Men passed him and saluted. One of them, a young man of average height, well built, had a grimy and unsabbath like face.
‘Good morning,’ Father Giffley said.
‘Good morning, Father.’
‘Have you been working?’
‘At it all night, Father,’ Fitz said. He pushed his cap on to the back of his head and now that he had stopped, let his eyes travel with the river to the point where the north and south walls widened, disappeared and left it to the sea. It was sluggish and grey, but with a sheen here and there that acknowledged the sunshine.
‘Shift work, I suppose?’ Father Giffley questioned.
‘At the foundry, Father.’
‘How do you get to mass?’
‘Our mates come in an hour earlier on Sundays—we do the same for them in our turn.’
‘You’re a good bunch of men,’ Father Giffley said. ‘You’ll be off to a football match after the dinner, I suppose?’
Fitz smiled and said: ‘No such luck today—I’m minding the kids.’
‘Letting herself out?’
‘For a change,’ Fitz said easily. Father Giffley, he realised, did not remember him.
‘You’ve a button in your coat,’ Father Giffley remarked, ‘and I haven’t seen one like it before.’
Fitz said it was a trade union button.
‘Will they release Larkin, do you think?’
‘There’s great talk of it, Father.’
‘So they should,’ Father Giffley said. ‘Have you ever been on strike?’
‘Which of us hasn’t?’
‘Of course,’ Father Giffley said, ‘everybody in my parish has been, I suppose. They don’t treat you very fairly, do they?’
It was not a question that needed answering. Father Giffley rose and put his hands behind his back once more.
‘No, indeed,’ he said as he went off, ‘they do not.’
He went back again through the side streets. People who knew him thought it strange, not because he was walking in his soutane—he was odd and had peculiar ways—but because he was seldom known to stroll through his parish.
The high windows let in the afternoon sun behind the girl at the bedside, giving lights to her smooth, black hair, leaving her pale face in shadow. She was the girl with the two children who so often brought her snuff, who in fact had just given her a small packet of snuff, which was now under the pillow somewhere, if she could find it. She quested with the fingers of one hand.
‘I’ll get it for you.’
The lights in the hair went out as the girl who had left a good place to marry some poor chap or other leaned nearer the bed. Mary . . . that was the name she was searching for.
‘What were you saying, love?’ Miss Gilchrist asked.
‘I said I’ll get it for you.’
The young face smiled. A pleasant girl, she now remembered, who always brought her snuff. Mary.
‘I mean before that.’
‘I was saying the days are growing short already.’
‘What day is it?’
Of course it was Sunday. It was on Sundays she got the snuff. If she used it carefully and watched that it wasn’t stolen it would last a week. Almost.
‘When I was a young bit of a thing in Dublin at first I never liked Sundays.’
‘Why was that?’
‘The bells. I never liked the sound of them.’
‘Yes. They make you lonely when there’s only yourself.’
‘Our own bells making a din the whole of the morning. And then the Protestant bells going in the afternoon. And the bells for devotion at seven or eight o’clock. They made such a commotion from morning till night I used to be glad when it was Monday.’
‘I was like that myself too, at first.’
‘When you looked out the window and saw everyone else parading it in their finery?’
‘Meeting each other and going to each other’s houses.’
‘That was it.’
Lonely, that was it. In the winter it had not been so bad, though. There were more musical evenings. You got used to it. Sometimes, even, you enjoyed it. Guests got to notice you, gradually. They enquired after your health. They said, ‘Miss Gilchrist, you’re a treasure—you really are.’
‘Is it very warm out?’
‘It’s lovely—for October.’
‘Is it October . . .? Well, well.’
She made a noise of disbelief.
‘That’s what I was saying. About the days growing short.’
They always began to grow short in October, the days did. The leaves began to come down on the lawn; a bit of wind and you spent the day sweeping, unless Mrs. Bradhaw saw you and said leave them; a woman that liked leaves lying about, the colours beautiful, the sound as your feet brushed through them on the walks, a sentimental woman. If there was a sup of rain you could slip and break your ankle. Small comfort in the swish and colour then.
The girl handed her the packet and said, ‘Take a little of your snuff.’
It blurred the outer world with water, making the lungs larger inside and the air that entered them weighty and nourishing. She put it back carefully under her pillow.
‘They steal it on me when I’m sleeping,’ she confided. ‘The nurses do it or one of the patients.’
‘Perhaps you mislay it,’ the girl said in a gentle tone.
‘No fear—it’s stolen. If I find out who I’ll crucify her for it. Time and time again I reach under my pillow and it’s gone—spirited away—vanished.’
‘It’s a shame for them,’ Mary said. As she did so the dismissal bell began in a nearby ward. The sound came nearer. She rose, promising to come next Sunday.
‘If I’m still here,’ Miss Gilchrist said.
‘Of course you’ll be here.’
Miss Gilchrist smiled a little and closed her eyes.
They let her sleep through the evening meal. When she awakened she reached for the snuff immediately. It had gone. She raised herself with a great mustering of willpower and looked about her at the other beds.
‘Who took my snuff?’ she shouted. ‘Which of youse thieving trollops made love to my snuff?’ Nobody answered. When she shouted again a nurse came to quieten her.
‘Where did you put it?’ the nurse asked.
‘Here—under my pillow.’
The nurse searched. ‘There’s no snuff,’ the nurse said finally, ‘you must have been dreaming.’
‘I wasn’t dreaming. It was brought to me today.’ The nurse patted the pillow into shape and arranged the bedclothes. Her face was stern.
‘Now, now,’ she said, firmly.
Father Giffley took afternoon devotions. They consisted of rosary, sermon and benediction. While Father O’Sullivan preached the sermon Father Giffley, who sat to one side of the altar, his hands palms downwards on his knees, his head inclined forward, saw the altar boy with ginger hair nod off to sleep—as usual. After tea they sat together in a room on the ground floor which the three priests sometimes shared. Father O’Sullivan, writing at the table, found the matter difficult. He frowned frequently and bit the handle of his pen. At the fireside Father Giffley rested his black book on his knee. He wrote easily but slowly, pausing often to search his memory. He wrote: ‘Thomas A Kempis instructs us as follows: “I had rather feel compunction than know the definition thereof.” Father O’Sullivan, who is still trying to write a devotional booklet, if I recognise the signs, and I ought to be able to by now, is an illustration of what it means. “If thou knowest the whole Bible by heart, and the sayings of all the philosophers, what would it profit thee without love of God and without grace?”
That hits at me, of course. Except that I don’t know very much by heart.
“It is Vanity to desire to live long and not to care to live well.”
My trouble is that I care to live too well. A Kempis means something quite different. There we are—the difficulty of communication. You do not care to live well. You only care to live well.
“Call often to mind the proverb—The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.”
That’s the best thing he has said. We see and we hear. But it is the thing beyond the eye that we immediately wish to see. We hear and there is still something unheard even in what we hear. And it tempts us to seek a more complete satisfaction. What kind of satisfaction? Society, Power, Eminence—what? I do not know. We seek it, just the same. Of course it doesn’t exist, this S-A-T-I-S-F-A-C-T-I-O-N. Only the craving. Of course, a drop from the B. kills it. Temporarily.
“For they that follow their lusts stain their own consciences and lose the grace of God.”
Me again. The drop from the B. Lust of the Belly.’ He closed the book.
‘You are very quiet, Father,’ he said.
Father O’Sullivan looked up vaguely. After a painful knitting of the brows he succeeded in relating the remark to himself.
‘Yes, indeed,’ he said.
‘What is the subject this time?’
Father O’Sullivan left down his pen. He was diffident.
‘The Holy Family as a model for the ordering of the humble Catholic home.’
‘It’s always the humble Catholic home we dare to order, isn’t it?’ Father Giffley remarked. ‘Well, I’m glad you’re still trying.’
‘No longer very hopefully,’ Father O’Sullivan confessed.
‘Oh, I don’t know. In the world of—ah—literature’ (Father Giffley stumbled unintentionally over the word) ‘I’m told it’s quite usual to fail, over and over again.’
Father O’Sullivan smiled and looked embarrassed.
‘You mustn’t call it literature—that would frighten me off altogether.’
‘Pamphlets, religious exhortations, devotional booklets—they all have to be written, haven’t they? Though, having read my fill of them I must confess that frequently I fail to see why.’
‘They serve a very great need.’
‘Do you think so?’
‘I have no doubt about it. That’s why I keep trying to write them.’
‘Thousands are written. Are they not enough? Why should you try to add to them?’
‘I can never answer that question when I put it to myself. When I sit down to write it comes so terribly hard with me that I feel I’m the last one in the world who should attempt it. And yet, whenever I stop trying, I become desperately unhappy.’
Father Giffley grunted impatiently. Yet his face, turned fully now on Father O’Sullivan, was gentle with sympathy and companionship.
‘Some day, never fear, you’ll write one that will be approved. You’ll see it among the others on the bookstand at the door of the Church. The Holy Family, A Devotional Booklet for the Catholic Home. With a nicely coloured cover. Your lifelong ambition available to the world at the popular price of one halfpenny. Does the thought make you happy?’
Father O’Sullivan considered. Then he said:
‘I am not quite sure, Father, whether you are saying that to encourage me or to amuse yourself.’
‘Both,’ Father Giffley confessed. He looked into the fire. His mood changed.
‘How long are you here, John?’
He very rarely used Christian names. He hardly noticed now that he had done so.
‘I came three years after yourself.’
‘And you are contented with St. Brigid’s?’
‘It’s much the same as anywhere else.’
‘In some ways, yes. We baptise, we marry, we minister to the sick, we bury the dead. And that’s all you have to say.’
‘I think so.’
‘Does it never trouble you, John, to think that there are parishes where faces are not hungry and where rooms are not bare and children are not dirty? Don’t you wish, every now and then, that you could hear confessions without having to endure the smell of badly nourished bodies?’
‘I have never thought about it.’
Father O’Sullivan frowned in his effort to give a precise answer.
‘Perhaps at times I have noticed . . . I honestly can’t say.’
‘Don’t misunderstand me,’ Father Giffley said. ‘I don’t blame the people. I blame those who are responsible for a deplorable state of affairs; hypocrites and windbags—all of them pious, and all of them pitiless.’
‘Would you agree with Mr. Larkin, then?’
Father Giffley hit the book on his knee with the flat of his hand.
‘I do—by the Lord Harry. He’ll do what our respected colleagues haven’t the stomach to attempt—he’ll put the fear of God into all of them.’
He stared at the opposite wall. Father O’Sullivan, watching his face, began to fear for him. His eyes gleamed too brightly, his mouth was rigid. Once again the eyes turned to Father O’Sullivan.
‘We seem to be missing the pleasure of Father O’Connor’s company.’
Anxiety made Father O’Sullivan’s voice unsure.
‘It’s his evening free.’
‘I am aware of that. Does he visit in the parish?’
‘No. In Kingstown, I think. He has friends out there.’
‘Ah yes, his comfortable friends. I thought he had given up all that to work among the poor.’
Father O’Sullivan attempted an explanation.
‘They give him money from time to time, I understand, which he distributes through the Confraternity Committee.’
‘Hmm. He doesn’t distribute it himself, of course.’
‘He doesn’t wish to have the credit.’
‘You mean he hasn’t the stomach for it,’ Father Giffley said. ‘I may not know the sayings of all the philosophers, but I know something about character. St. Brigid’s has taught me.’
Father O’Sullivan lowered his eyes, embarrassed.
‘You think I should keep a bridle on my tongue—eh, Father?’
Father O’Sullivan did not reply.
‘The tongue was made to speak truth and do battle,’ Father Giffley insisted. ‘I’ll risk the occasional sin of uncharity.’
He went abruptly back to his book, fidgeted about, then wrote the letters of the word Satisfaction under each other from the top to the bottom of the page. He began to make a poem. It was an old device of his. Sometimes it worked. He roughed out the lines on one sheet of paper and then, when each seemed right, he put it after its appropriate letter in the black-covered book. As he struggled with his task the night grew older. An hour, two hours, passed. Father O’Sullivan completed what he was writing and excused himself. The servant restocked the fire twice. At last Father Giffley re-read what he had written:
Sun on the river spreads peace in this Sabbath of stillness
After the season of toil, the sorrow of labour
The children of bondage have straightened and flung away tiredness
In parks and at pastimes escaped from their tyrant the harbour
Seagull, you skim on white feathers where old ships are sleeping
Fleeing the stain that pursues on the face of the water
All who are born, all under Heaven’s strange keeping
Carry the stain and drag the same shadow after.
Teach me O symbol, Sing of the Holy Spirit
I am in dread and seek to outstrip the shadow
Oh, lead Thou to God and His Presence—lead, through Christ’s Merit.
Not to His Feet, but Their Print in the dews of His Meadow.
It disappointed him. He did not like it very much, although he had struggled manfully with it and it had taken a long, long time, so long that he was stiff and his eyes ached. Still, it had served its purpose. He went up to his room, undressed wearily and got into bed. He felt tired in a dull way, all his interest spent. He was no poet, yet he had accomplished something better than a poem. He had resisted the urge to open the press, to feel with trembling fingers for the neck of the bottle. Once more he had won a victory. It would be only temporary, he knew that. But each temporary triumph would stave off a little longer the eventual collapse. It would come, that collapse. Father Giffley did not try to fool himself. It was a disease—this appetite of his. He had seen others. Unless by a miracle of grace . . . and he was unworthy of that.
They were lighting the lamps in Chandlers Court. The children still played in the street. They were used to Rashers and his dog by now and let both pass without stopping to jeer at them as was once their habit. Rashers paid no attention either. He was tired and unwell. But he had food in his bag and the whiskey Father Giffley had said he was to get. It was a generous measure—nearly half a bottle. That was something. The housekeeper was glad to give away as much of it as she could. It would leave all the less for the parish priest, God help him. It was not right in a priest to . . . And then his face, purple all the time. The smell of peppermints from his breath too. She had seen it begin and she had seen it become a habit and then more than habit. She had seen . . . Well, there were strange things in the world and indeed if everybody was made the same it would be a very dull place indeed. It wasn’t always the virtuous and the temperate who were the most forbearing and considerate of those in a lowlier station. Not by a long chalk. Father Giffley was a harsh man with his equals and his superiors, more power to him, but he was seldom cross with those who had the menial place. He took everything from them as it came. There were certain others now . . . no names—no pack drill.
Rashers hoped Hennessy might be about, but there was no sign of him. He could have shared some of the whiskey with him and he would have welcomed his chat. Hennessy had an interest in things. Hennessy had suggested staying in the boiler-house. It seemed to have done his rheumatism good, but not his bronchitis. He wanted to tell Hennessy that. Hennessy would be interested. And now this dark damp hall, these rickety stairs and the wave of cold, wet air and the smell of clay as he opened the door to the basement room.
‘Like a grave, Rusty,’ he said, groping about for the bottle with the candle butt. It gave a wavering light. His bedding was still as he had left it, the rags lying in a heap at the bottom of the straw. The biscuit box had another coat of rust and the jamjars were stained with stale tea.
‘No fire to cock your behind to tonight, Rusty,’ he said. The dog sat down on the clay floor, first to scratch itself, then to sniff at the accumulated odours, his nose detecting and defining delicately the week’s trespassers.
‘Have they been here?’ Rashers questioned. He was taking off his clothes.
‘You’re not to go eating them,’ he warned. ‘Chase them if you want to—kill them with my full licence and leave; but don’t devour them. Don’t even taste them. The rats in this bloody place would poison you.’
He lay back on the bedding and adjusted the rags about him.
‘Anyway, we have some tasty morsels here.’
From the sack near his head he selected food, giving portion of it to the dog. Both began to eat. For tonight, at least, there was enough and plenty. He put a little of the meat aside to give to Mrs. Bartley and the children. It would be nourishing for them and there would be luck in the eating of it, since it had come from the table of the priest. Good luck and bad luck wandered the streets outside, invisible, so that you never knew until afterwards which of the pair you had been meeting up with. Above the streets were God and His Mother, His saints, His angels. Sometimes, if the luck was too persistently bad, one or other of them might intervene to help you out. They had done so for Rashers. Brushing the crumbs from his beard, he gave thanks. He was stretching out his hand to put out the candle when someone knocked at the door.
‘Who is it?’
Hennessy was wearing an unfamiliar bowler and a coat that was too large for him.
‘Style—begod,’ Rashers commented.
‘I was given them from a house in Nutley Lane,’ Hennessy said. ‘What are you lying there for?’
‘I’m in bed—a most respectable place to be.’
‘You should be above in the streets singing ballads. Such excitement. Did you not meet up with any of it? There was a procession and speeches.’
‘I declare to God the Parnell anniversary parade. And I never thought of it.’
‘That’s not until next week.’
‘It’s no use anyway,’ Rashers said, ‘they’re not very givish with the money.’
‘They’ve released Larkin,’ Hennessy explained. ‘The Viceroy himself ordered it. The Irish flag and the stars and stripes is flying outside 10 Beresford Place and there’s a meeting going on this past hour. Get up and come round to it with your ballad.’
Rashers shook his head. He had eaten; he had drawn his ten shillings wages. Besides, he was not feeling too well.
‘I’m not up to the mark,’ he said. ‘The oul chest. And the leg is giving me hell.’
The bowler was too big for Hennessy. He pushed it up off his forehead.
‘It’s the opportunity of a lifetime.’
‘No,’ Rashers said, ‘sing it for them yourself.’
Hennessy wondered would he. It would earn money. There were thousands crammed in the street outside the union hall. They would be there for about an hour more; longer, if Larkin decided to speak again. But he had never yet, in the extremes of his neediness, tried singing as a livelihood. It would be a step nearer to beggary. It surprised him to find that there was a step still below him. He would work at anything; he would scrounge and borrow; he would not stand in the street and sing. With tact, he said:
‘I wouldn’t have the voice.’
‘I’ve heard to the differ—that you’re a great hand at a song or a recitation.’
‘I haven’t the right kind of voice for the outdoor stuff.’
‘Try the pubs.’
‘No,’ Hennessy said, ‘it’s your ballad. I wouldn’t make use of it.’
‘Please yourself,’ Rashers said.
Disappointed, Hennessy moved towards the door.
‘Before you go,’ Rashers said, ‘take a swig of this.’
‘Glory be to God!’ Hennessy exclaimed, when he saw the bottle. He took out the cork and swallowed.
‘You’re welcome to your half—if you care to stay.’
Tempted, Hennessy hesitated. But he thought of the crowds, the speeches, the excitement. Something might happen, something that had never happened before and, as like as not, would never happen again.
‘No. I’ll get back. I wouldn’t care to miss what’s going on.’
‘Please yourself,’ Rashers said again.
‘Well . . . I hope your chest improves. A good night’s rest works wonders.’
The door dosed. Rashers, disappointed in his turn, reached once more for the candle, smothering the flame between his finger and thumb. The dog whimpered. Rusty would stay with him, anyway.
When Rashers lay down he fell asleep, but after an hour or less he woke up coughing. He groped again for the whiskey. At the first gulp his cough got worse. At the second it stopped. Now that he knew where the housekeeper kept it, there was always the chance of acquiring a little from time to time. They sent him to the kitchen on and off for messages. Quite often there was nobody there. A drop now and then for medicine, to help him sleep. There wouldn’t be any great harm in that. ‘Well—we’ll see,’ he said aloud to the dog. He took a third swig for good measure. He lay back then and slept right through until the morning.
While he did so the submerged city continued to gather at Beresford Place. They were coming out en masse once again, as Father O’Connor had seen them do only a few months previously, coming from hovels and tenements, flaunting their rags and their destitution, disrupting traffic and driving the respectable off the pavements. Once again their arrogance astounded the press, which brought the whole story to Father O’Connor at breakfast the next morning. He was disturbed, for it appeared now that some of the well-to-do class had spoken from Larkin’s platform congratulating him on his release, describing it as a victory for the workers of Dublin.
‘Can you tell me who Countess Markiewicz is, Father?’ he enquired, over his paper.
Father O’Sullivan thought very hard but had to acknowledge that he did not know. He was not greatly interested in such things. Father Giffley, who was also at table, did. However, he did not feel like enlightening Father O’Connor; instead, he held out his cup to him, requesting more tea with an aloof movement of his eyebrows.
For brief moments over an endless day it was the iron end-piece of a bed, the rough boards of the ward, a nurse, an old woman in a shapeless grey dress. It was a face filling the whole of the visible, bending. But for long periods it was the laneway at home, winding between ash and sycamore, with blue sky and white cloud above the branches of trees, so dizzily bright that when you stared too long it all swung upside down and you fell in. In the house it was evening with shadows already in the corners and the fire burning high on the hearth. You took food on a tray to the loft where among sacks and oddments two bearded faces turned towards you when you entered. They took the food and said ‘Thank you’ in very good voices indeed. Once, one of them, the younger one who was very manly and handsome said:
‘How old are you, Sara?’
‘You mustn’t call me sir—I’m only twenty. Do you think we will escape?’
‘I pray for it—I keep praying.’
‘You’re very kind, Sara. And you’re terribly pretty.’
‘But yes, Sara. I hope you don’t mind my saying so.’
‘I don’t mind.’
Why would you mind? It was forward but not when a young man was about to be captured and to die maybe, not then. Or the evening when he came down to the kitchen and asked if he might speak to you for a little while. Or the morning the soldiers came and his eyes, the way they looked at you as they took him away. You walked again among the ash and the sycamore and in the terrible silence that would never more be broken it was the look in the eyes you remembered. She would never breed men like that again, Ireland of the heroes and the songs and the great deeds. It was strange you could remember forever a young face and strong fingers reaching to take bread from a platter and a voice saying ‘You’re terribly pretty’ and a look in a pair of going-away eyes. It was ash and sycamore, it was shadows and a fire, it was bare boards and a nurse and the end-piece of an iron bed.
She stirred and felt she must sit up. Just once, before she gave in finally to the weariness and the sickness. It was hard though, to overcome it. Several times she tensed the muscles and levered on her elbows and thought at last she was sitting up; yet when she shook her head to clear it she was still lying down and had not stirred at all. Was she, then, powerless? For ever? She tried again and again, until at last she found she was really and truly off her back. Not sitting up, she discovered, but raised, supported by her elbows, seeing the beds about her, some empty, some occupied. It was morning, she thought. Those not in bed were busy with small tasks. None of them seemed to notice her. She tried to talk to the woman in the bed beside her but succeeded only in making noises. She persisted, searching for speech until at last the head turned towards her. The eyes stared at her and the voice called out:
‘Nurse . . . Nurse . . . come quickly.’
The rest stopped what they were doing to turn and stare. Then she saw the whole face clearly, a grey, alarmed face with a single brown snot oozing down in a thin line from one nostril to the mouth. She thought of her snuff and knew that she had found out at last. Her speech came back to her suddenly, in a storm of shock and anger.
‘It was you, you bitch,’ she screamed, ‘it was you that robbed me.’
The nurse had reached her and was about to push her back. There was no need. Her elbows slid gently under her of their own accord, her body, of its own accord, settled back again on the mattress. There was no further movement in the face and, when the nurse took the wrist, no further movement discernible in the pulse. She went for the doctor. He took his time about coming. When he arrived it was only to draw the coarse sheet over Miss Gilchrist’s face.
The morning was bright, the sky high and blue, on the walls of gardens not yet reached by the sun the frost was a black gleam. The carriage, as it swayed on the cobbles past the grounds of Blackrock College, gave views of the sea on the right, a wide sweep of water, a great chilled sparkle. Mrs. Bradshaw found it cold. She wrapped her furs more closely about her, reconsidering their itinerary. First to Father O’Connor, to tell him what she proposed to do. He had sent word to her immediately, asking for her instructions. He would do everything for her, of course, he would arrange all from beginning to end. But she did not want it that way. There were some things which must be attended to personally. This was one of them, a matter of individual responsibility, a question of conscience. If Mr. Bradshaw found out he would fume and rant. If necessary, that would have to be faced. For too long now the fate of her one-time servant had haunted her mind. In the little service that was left to be done to Miss Gilchrist she would not fail.
Father O’Connor, summoned to the waiting room, was surprised, she could see that. It was early. Outside, the bell was still being rung for the ten o’clock mass. A deformed and bearded creature had been dragging fiercely on the rope when she entered the church grounds. She knew what she was going to say to Father O’Connor when he protested—as he would. He would not think it fitting that she should visit Mary Fitzpatrick. She prepared herself to be inflexible.
‘Mrs. Bradshaw . . .’ Father O’Connor said, advancing to greet her.
‘You’re surprised to see me, Father?’
‘I intended to call out to you this morning. You shouldn’t have troubled to come all the way in . . .’
‘I’ve made up my mind what should be done. Miss Gilchrist will have a funeral.’
‘But of course, I’ve notified the authorities already that there must be no question of a pauper’s grave.’
‘I mean a proper funeral, with some carriages following.’
‘Carriages?’ he asked, puzzled. ‘Is that necessary?’
‘I feel it is.’
‘But—who will travel in them?’
‘She had one friend—Mary Fitzpatrick. If Mary and her husband and perhaps one or two of their friends went, it would be perfect.’
‘But . . . unnecessary, surely?’
‘For me,’ Mrs. Bradshaw said, ‘it is very necessary that this should be done as I know Miss Gilchrist would wish. Now—I want you to give me Mary Fitzpatrick’s address.’
‘Do you intend to call on her?’
The answer left Father O’Connor without words. He had been standing. Now he walked to the corner of the room, took a chair and brought it to the table. He sat down.
‘Have you any idea of the surroundings you are going to visit?’
‘A tenement room?’ Mrs. Bradshaw said. ‘My husband owns several housefuls of them. There are, I understand, thousands of them. Aren’t they part of our city?’
‘They are part of our city, but not necessarily fitting places to be visited.’
Mrs. Bradshaw bowed her head. She looked down at the gloved hands which lay joined on her lap.
‘You, of all the people I know, should recognise this feeling, this absolute necessity . . .’
She stopped and looked up suddenly at him. Her eyes appealed for his understanding. He knew what she meant. No words of his would clear her of the guilt that she felt. Only restitution, given in the form which seemed to her to be fitting, would do that.
‘You are not responsible,’ he said to her. ‘You did not decide the matter. Besides, in all the circumstances—what else was there to do?’
‘I’ve asked myself that many times.’
‘And you still don’t know—isn’t that so?’
‘I know what should be done now,’ she said with decision. ‘For the moment that will be sufficient.’ Her determination impressed him.
‘Very well. I’ll give you the address. Meanwhile, let me call for some tea.’
The carriage took her back past the railway station again, under the gloomy iron bridge, past a public house on a corner where men stood in a group, talking, spitting, waiting for something to happen, for a cart to pass that was shy a helper, for someone to come along who would stand a drink, for the sun to climb a bit higher, the day to grow a bit warmer.
‘Number 3 Chandlers Court,’ she said again to the driver, raising the leather flap to project her voice to where he was sitting.
‘That’s where we’re headed ma’am,’ he assured her.
They went down a long street, took a turn right and slowed to a walk.
‘Chandlers Court, ma’am,’ he shouted in to her, ‘Number 3.’
He drew back on the reins and the carriage came to a standstill. He opened the door.
‘Wait here for me,’ she instructed. He nodded. The steps that led up to the hall were uneven, the fanlight was broken, the door stood wide open. The area showed a basement window stuffed with cardboard. From each window of the four storeys above her poles stuck out and carried ropes which supported drying clothes. It was, she could see, wash day. She went uncertainly through the gloomy hall, climbed the stairs to the front room on the first landing and knocked.
At first Mary did not recognise her. She stood staring, until at last Mrs. Bradshaw had to say, gently:
‘May I come in for just a moment, Mary?’
‘Mrs. Bradshaw . . .’
Mary opened the door wide and her guest went through. The room was clean, Mrs. Bradshaw noticed. There was very little in it. A table and a couple of rough kitchen chairs, a dresser of sorts, a long couch with a clumsy, home-made look about it and on the mantelpiece, incongruously, a large, ornamental clock.
‘Please sit down,’ Mary invited. She chose a kitchen chair. There was a fire in the grate, warm enough to keep the cooking pot and kettle simmering but not big enough to heat satisfactorily the large room. Mrs. Bradshaw saw another door to the left and surmised a bedroom. Mary sat opposite. It was the first time she had ever been seated in the presence of Mrs. Bradshaw. She sat straight and still, waiting for the other to speak.
‘You are wondering why I’ve come,’ Mrs. Bradshaw said. ‘It’s about Miss Gilchrist. She . . . died yesterday.’
‘Oh,’ Mary said. The news was a shock. Death always was. Week after week you saw it in the eyes, yet week after week they opened and looked when your footsteps sounded across the floor of the ward. Recognition, a smile. Until you came to believe that it was going to go on that way, a part of the world, like making a bottle for the baby, or washing on Mondays and shopping on Saturdays. Mary nodded and said:
‘Poor Miss Gilchrist.’
‘You were very good to her.’
‘There was so little I could do.’
‘You visited her . . .’ Mrs. Bradshaw continued.
‘So little . . .’Mary repeated, not listening, and found herself crying.
Mrs. Bradshaw waited a while and then said:
‘I’ve come to ask you to do something more.’
‘Miss Gilchrist will be taken from that terrible place. She will be put to rest in a proper and dignified way, with those who knew her in attendance. Father O’Connor will make the funeral arrangements. If it can be done at all, I would like you and your husband to attend. Would you do so?’
‘I’d like to,’ Mary said, ‘but we haven’t . . .’
‘Where does your husband work?’
‘With Morgan & Co.—the foundry.’
‘I’ll send a carriage for you. If your husband can’t be free, perhaps a neighbour would go with you.’
‘When will it be?’
‘In the morning to Glasnevin cemetery. I’ll go myself with Father O’Connor.’
‘I’m sure we’ll be able to manage,’ Mary said.
‘You were always a good girl,’ Mrs. Bradshaw said. She rose. Mary remembered that she had not been offered hospitality.
‘May I make you some tea?’
‘You have your children to attend to . . .’
‘They’re both asleep. It’s no trouble.’
Mrs. Bradshaw wondered what would be the right thing to do. What could this bare home offer without hardship to those who lived in it? The pale, pretty face with its dark hair waited uncertainly for her answer.
‘A cup of tea would be nice,’ Mrs. Bradshaw decided, ‘but in my hand—and, please, nothing else whatever.’
She saw Mary stirring the fire under the kettle and wondered what Mr. Bradshaw would have to say if he knew she was preparing to drink tea in a tenement room. And with the servant he had dismissed. Yet she was such a civil, warm-hearted girl. And clean. Everything was clean. That was a sure sign of character, one she had always looked for when engaging.
She was handed a cup and saucer. She reached her spoon for sugar and then waited. Mary hesitated and said:
‘I beg your pardon—milk.’
She went to the sideboard. She seemed to have trouble finding what she wanted. Mrs. Bradshaw, sensing a crisis, watched. She saw her empty some from a baby’s bottle into a jug. Mrs. Bradshaw was shocked. Mary returned, smiling and said, ‘Here it is.’
Mrs. Bradshaw pretended not to have noticed. But she took as little as possible.
Mary took up a tin of condensed milk from the table and said: ‘I’d rather have this myself.’ She was apologetic.
‘Of course,’ Mrs. Bradshaw said.
They drank tea in silence for some moments. At last Mrs. Bradshaw said:
‘You keep everything very nice, Mary.’
‘We haven’t much, indeed.’
‘You’ve two little children. Isn’t that a great deal?’
‘Yes’, Mary said. ‘Children are a blessing.’
‘Of course they are. Your husband is working with Morgan & Co. I do believe Mr. Yearling is a director. What’s your husband’s first name?’
‘Robert,’ Mary said, ‘he’s a shift worker.’
‘I see,’ Mrs. Bradshaw said. ‘I may find an opportunity to speak to Mr. Yearling about him—that’s why I ask.’
‘It’s very kind of you,’ Mary said.
Mrs. Bradshaw left her cup down and said she really must go. Before going to the door she opened her purse and fumbled in it. She put a pound on the table. Mary was embarrassed.
‘Please, Mrs. Bradshaw—I couldn’t.’
‘There may be little expenses to meet tomorrow which neither Father O’Connor nor I will be able to attend to for you. Your husband must not be out of pocket.’
Mary held open the door for her. A group of children had gathered about the cab. Many of them, Mrs. Bradshaw remarked, were in rags. Most of them were barefooted. They cleared a passage for her and stared after the cab as it turned in a wide circle and departed. Mary, from her window, watched it go. She took the jug from the table and returned what remained of the milk to the child’s bottle. It was all the fresh milk she had. But there would be no shortage. The pound note on the table was almost a week’s wages. The clock on the mantelpiece chimed, telling her it was noon already and that Fitz would soon be returning. ‘And what is your husband’s first name?’ If Mrs. Bradshaw was interested, even a little bit, God knows what good might come of it.
The cab took them at a smart pace to the workhouse. The morning was bright again, but mild. Mary thought they might have a window open.
‘Just a little,’ she suggested to Fitz.
He unhooked the leather strap from its brass stud, eased the frame down and re-secured it. He was wearing his stiff collar and a tie. It made him look stouter, somehow, but very handsome, she thought. Pat, who was off work, had come with them for company. She was glad. The children of the neighbourhood had gathered about the cab when it called for them. It was less embarrassing to step into it when there were three of them. Pat, she thought, looked very neat too, with his serge suit and butterfly collar and bowler hat. It was such a pity he was a bit wild at times, because underneath he had a warm, kind nature. Mrs. Mulhall, who was minding the children, had waved goodbye from the window and for a moment it had felt like setting off on a day’s outing. But she reminded herself that it was to see the very last of poor Miss Gilchrist, who had been so kind to her when she had no Fitz and no children. It would be unseemly to treat it like an excursion.
At the mortuary chapel they stood for a little while beside the coffin to pray. Mrs. Bradshaw was in the grounds, but did not go into the mortuary. It was not the custom among well-to-do ladies. Father O’Connor came in, took his stole from his pocket, kissed it, placed it around his neck and prayed. He sprinkled holy water from a tiny bottle which he also carried. He acknowledged their presence with a nod, then rejoined Mrs. Bradshaw. They got into a coach together. When the hearse was ready both cabs followed it, slowly as far as the gates, more briskly as they began the journey across the city. In the second coach Pat offered Fitz a cigarette.
‘Where are we off to?’ he asked.
Fitz looked at Mary. She looked blankly back at him.
‘I never thought of asking,’ she confessed.
‘Glasnevin, probably,’ Pat decided.
‘We’ll soon know,’ Fitz said, unconcerned.
In a minute or so the cab driver confirmed their guess by turning left. They reached the quays and travelled towards the city centre. Men stopped to raise their hats as the hearse passed, women crossed themselves. People searching through the shelves outside second-hand bookshops turned to pay their respects. At the rattle of their wheels the gulls loitering along the river wall rose lazily with outstretching necks and glided down to the safety of the water.
‘It’s such a fine morning,’ Mrs. Bradshaw said, leaning forward for a moment to peer through the window.
‘It would be so unpleasant if it rained,’ Father O’Connor agreed.
‘I’d no idea how truly destitute most of your parishioners were. Even your poor clerk . . .’
‘The clerk of the church can hardly be described as destitute,’ Father O’Connor suggested. But politely. Mrs. Bradshaw’s idea of destitution and his own were bound to be different.
‘He seemed to me to be in rags,’ she answered.
Father O’Connor was puzzled.
‘When did you meet him?’
‘When I arrived yesterday morning he was ringing the bell—a bearded, very odd-looking poor creature.’
That was not the clerk. Father O’Connor wondered who it could have been. He remembered the boilerman.
‘It must have been Tierney, our boilerman.’ The discovery irritated him. What an impression to give a lady visitor.
‘He shouldn’t have been ringing the bell,’ he explained, ‘his place is in the boiler room. I must speak to the clerk about it.’
A green wreath, the ribbons bedraggled, lay at the plinth which would soon support the Parnell monument, a tribute, now several days old, from the Parnell anniversary parade. What inscription did the pedestal carry? Something about the onward march of a nation. Something to the effect that no one had the right to say—this far shalt thou go and no further?
‘A tragic poor man,’ Mrs. Bradshaw remarked, surprisingly.
An adulterer. Nevertheless, a great leader. Unfortunate entanglement. Could he not foresee—probably not. A Protestant and a patrician. Outlook quite different. Behind the euphemisms and the sentimentalities Catholic Ireland had not failed to discern the real horror. They were laying wreaths just the same. Yearling had remarked on that. De mortuis nil nisi bonum.
‘Ah yes, indeed,’ Father O’Connor said, as the laurelled sinner slipped behind.
The passers-by continued to raise their hats to Miss Gilchrist. She had joined the ranks of the dead, and commanded now their unanimous and ungrudging respect. Miss Gilchrist R.I.P. She was ennobled.
A hearse and mourning coaches stood empty outside the Brian Boru House waiting, while the mourners, their kinsman already buried, consoled themselves with alcohol. It was a custom deplored by Father O’Connor. They were talking about the dead one, praising him, exchanging remembrances of him. Sometimes they sang—an odd vehicle for the expression of grief. ‘The drunken funerals of Ireland.’ He shook his head, deploring it.
‘We are a strange people,’ Mrs. Bradshaw answered. Again her tolerance surprised him.
Inside the cemetery another funeral was in possession of the mortuary chapel. He bore the delay patiently, leaning on his umbrella as he waited. Mrs. Bradshaw beckoned Mary to come to her and enquired if everything had been as arranged. It had. She was pleased. She drew her apart and said: ‘I’ve been waiting to give you this note.’ She passed an envelope to Mary. Mary, knowing it would not be seemly at that moment to open it, put it in her pocket. Father O’Connor, turning his head for a moment, met her eyes and nodded in vague acknowledgment of her smile, which he thought had been meant for him.
Some distance away, Pat pointed out to Fitz the huge round tower which marked the resting place of Dan O’Connell.
‘Do you know what that is?’ he asked Fitz.
‘The tomb of the Liberator.’
‘They say in Kerry that you couldn’t throw a stone over a workhouse wall without hitting one of Dan’s bastards.’
‘They buried his heart in Rome, just the same,’ Fitz said. ‘It was his own request.’
Pat, who did not care for O’Connell, grunted and said: ‘I wonder where they buried his cockalorum.’
They found that the body of Miss Gilchrist was being moved into the chapel and followed. There were prayers. Then they followed the coffin down an avenue of trees, until they reached the new dug grave. The diggers passed their ropes under it and lowered it skilfully into the earth. Father O’Connor prayed, so quietly that all the time he did so they could hear the birds in the nearby trees. Soon there would be hardly any birds at all, Mary thought, soon the dead of winter would strip every remaining remnant. There would be no leaf and no wing. She wept when the first clod of earth bumped on the coffin. Then it was time to go back to the waiting coach.
They seated themselves.
‘The Brain Boru House,’ Pat suggested.
‘Please,’ Mary asked, ‘I wouldn’t like Father O’Connor and Mrs. Bradshaw to see you.’
‘We’ll let them go first then,’ Pat said.
He got out and spoke to the driver, who began to examine the harness inch by inch, as though tracing a fault. Mrs. Bradshaw’s coach passed them and went rattling down the road. The driver looked up and Pat shouted to him, ‘Coast clear.’
The driver climbed up, settled himself in the driving seat and cracked his whip. He looked very dignified.
Mary waited outside. She lay back against the padded leather and thought that she had not been in a coach since her childhood. It had been the funeral of an aunt, she remembered, on a day in summer when there were poppies spread through the grass in the country churchyard. She had been given biscuits and lemonade by her father. That was all she could remember, red poppies in long grass, worn headstones warm to touch, dust on the nettles and poppies red in the long grasses. Where was that day now? Where was the little girl in laced boots, a cousin of some sort, who had waited with her and played in the hot sun and got sick on the way home? She could not even remember her name. It was a strange thing, growing up and changing a little day by day, so slowly that you never noticed, so surely moving to maturity and old age and the front place at the funeral, having children to take in their turn the biscuits and the lemonade, to play in the sun and be sick in the evening. If you could be sure of heaven . . . She leaned towards the window and looked up at the sky. It was so high and blue it made her dizzy. One day she would close her eyes and fall into it. If she was spared to see the children reared and settled—that’s all she would ask of God. When that was done He could take her.
She pressed back against the leather, alone in the cab, alone, for a moment, in the world. If she got out and strolled up and down it would make no difference. If she went in and sat with the men and drank port wine it would still make no difference. She was trapped by life and by mortality. She began to wish Fitz would come out. When he did she leaned forward to welcome him, as though he had been away for some days. The driver climbed into his seat. Fitz shouted ‘Go ahead’ and closed the door.
‘Where’s Pat?’ she asked.
‘He’s not coming.’
‘He met someone he knew inside.’
‘Does that mean he’ll spend the day drinking?’
‘No,’ Fitz said, ‘he has other plans. Do you remember Lily Maxwell?’
Mary did. The girl who, from all accounts, was no better than she should be.
‘He hasn’t seen her for ages. While we were inside he met someone who knows where she’s living.’
‘Any man would be better away from women like that.’
It was a woman’s view. Fitz did not share it. He knew Lily meant much to Pat.
‘Not always,’ Fitz said.
Mary touched his hand and he turned to her. She asked: ‘Do you love me?’
The question surprised him. Something had upset her. He wondered what it could be.
‘Of course I love you.’
It was both an answer and a question. She left it unanswered. His reply had satisfied a need in her that she no longer tried to understand. She was content to leave her hand in his, to feel her reassurance return slowly as the cab travelled through the bright streets of the city, towards their couple of rooms and the insecure world in which her children waited. Thinking of her home, she remembered for the first time the note Mrs. Bradshaw had left with her. She took it from her pocket and opened it. It contained three one-pound notes. She drew them out.
‘Where did this come from?’ Fitz asked.
‘Mrs. Bradshaw gave me the envelope in the cemetery.’ There was a letter, which she passed to Fitz. He read aloud:
‘My dear Mary,
This will help you and your husband to provide something in the way of a special treat for your children. Accept it on their account.
Since I called to you I have been clearing out some old furniture and some floor coverings which I propose to send to you within a few days. You will be able to make use of them, I feel sure.
I have had the full story of your visits to Miss Gilchrist and consider your kindness to that old and friendless poor soul does you very great credit. God will reward you for that, as He promised long ago “one hundredfold”.
Believe me when I say that your goodness has been most praiseworthy indeed.
Fitz handed back the letter.
‘That should make you happy.’
‘The furniture will be wonderful, won’t it?’ she said.
Father O’Connor, having sent the housekeeper to fetch the clerk, watched at the window for their arrival. Sunlight lay on the courtyard outside and slid past the brass flower bowl in the window to fall on worn linoleum. It was a pleasant room which at the moment smelled of polish—a clean and agreeable smell. If his own room caught the sun for even an hour or two of the day it would have been entirely transformed. As it was it remained dark and damp and almost always depressing.
Sunlight meant so much. At the funeral today, for instance, it had been so pleasant: the earth dry and firm, the breeze mild and agreeable, a perfect setting for an extremely edifying occasion. Miss Gilchrist had received a fitting reward for faithful service; Mrs. Bradshaw had performed a quite singular act of charity. People like Yearling might laugh and say they did not care a fig where they were buried or by whom; but then Yearling, for all his unusual perceptiveness, did not understand the poor. The Fitzpatricks, too, had behaved very well—neither too forward nor too awkward. He seemed a respectable type of man to be mixed up with Larkin and strikes. But that was part of the tragedy—the good and the bad alike were being drawn in. If people of title were now choosing to associate with such things, was it fair to blame the ordinary workman for being misled? Mrs. Bradshaw might take an interest there. He might speak to her. The man had gone out of his way to help him on that dreadful night.
The housekeeper and the clerk crossed the courtyard. There was a light tap on the door.
The clerk was wearing a frayed and faded soutane that reminded him, like everything else in the parish, of a rag-and-bone shop.
‘Have you no better soutane than that?’
‘I have indeed, Father.’
‘Is the good one very uncomfortable or something?’
‘I was cleaning the novena lamps—a dirty job.’
There was always some excuse.
‘You wouldn’t want me getting oil stains up to me elbows, would you?’
The voice was not what it should be.
‘I would have you moderate your tone,’ Father O’Connor suggested, coldly.
The clerk frowned, making it plain that he was annoyed. Clerks everywhere were the same, Father O’Connor reflected. They grumbled, they disapproved, they argued back. He would not do it with Father Giffley though. Indeed no. Afraid.
‘It was reported to me this morning that Tierney the boilerman was ringing the bell for the ten o’clock mass.’
‘I let him do it when I’m busy,’ the clerk said. He was offhanded—deliberately so.
‘You mustn’t allow it in future.’
‘He thinks it a great privilege.’
‘What he thinks about it doesn’t matter in the least,’ Father O’Connor insisted. It isn’t seemly.’
‘Seemly,’ the clerk repeated. ‘I declare to God, Father, I don’t follow you at all. What’s unseemly about a poor man pulling a bell-rope to give me a hand.’
It was always so. Nothing was accepted simply. Everything had to be argued in St. Brigid’s.
‘Tierney is the boilerman. He is not very clean. His appearance—to say the least about it—is extremely odd. We mustn’t let the bell-ringing become a music-hall turn for the parish gapers.’
‘Father Giffley never objected.’
‘I am quite sure Father Giffley knows nothing about it or he would. Anyway, kindly attend to the bell-ringing yourself in the future.’
‘Whatever you say, Father.’
Once again the tone of voice was disrespectful.
‘That will be all.’
The clerk, stern-faced, angry, withdrew. Some hours later, when the three priests were at the evening meal, Father Giffley said: ‘You were speaking to the clerk about the ringing of the bell.’
‘I see, the clerk has complained to you.’
‘He has the excellent habit,’ Father Giffley said, ‘of referring such matters to his parish priest.’
‘The boilerman was ringing the bell. It looks most unseemly.’
‘You saw him?’
‘Not personally. It was reported to me.’
‘It didn’t occur to you to consult my views.’
‘I was certain they would be the same as mine.’
‘I am still your parish priest,’ Father Giffley said. The deep, red colour was in his cheeks and forehead. Father O’Connor lowered his eyes.
‘It seemed such a small matter—I am sorry.’
‘I have already issued instructions. In the future—as in the past—Tierney may help the clerk whenever it is required.’
‘Very good, Father.’
Father O’Connor knew he was being humiliated. It was deliberate. It was putting him in the wrong with the clerk and the boilerman, placing him below the ragtag and bobtail. That hurt almost unbearably—that and the contempt which was now unconcealed. He beat down anger and rebellion, kept them from showing in his face, guarded each movement of hands and head, pushed them back when they sought other means of entry. He did so by fixing his thoughts inflexibly on obedience. To be obedient was everything. Humiliation, the sting of wounded pride, the knowledge of being unloved and unrespected by another, these things did not matter at all, if one could become truly as nothing, if one could empty the house of Self and be stripped utterly.
Over a cup of tea and a half-eaten egg, Father O’Connor fought to possess Christ.
Pat stopped to check the name of the road. It was as the man in the Brian Boru House had informed him. There were parallel rows of small, two-storey houses with tiny gardens in front. It was quiet, respectable. Closed doors kept each household to itself, curtained windows gave away no secrets. A door opening and closing somewhere down the cul-de-sac startled Pat and sent the air trembling. He looked down the road and recognised Lily immediately, although as yet she was too far away for him to see her face. She was coming towards him. It was a piece of luck he had not bargained for. Watching her, he began to tremble a little. She might still not want to speak to him. He waited. She came forward, unsuspecting, with easy, unconcerned movements. When she was some yards from him he shouted: ‘Lily.’
She faltered. The serge suit, the butterfly collar, the bowler hat did not seem to match the voice. Then she recognised him and stopped.
‘My God,’ she said, ‘have they made you Lord Mayor or something?’
Delight made his heart jump. She was herself. She was accepting him in the old way.
‘Lily,’ he repeated. To say her name helped to release the pressure of tenderness inside him and made speech easier.
‘Where did you spring from?’
‘I found out at last where you were living.’
‘And you were coming to see me?’
‘I was hoping to see you, Lily.’
‘Is that why you’re wearing the regimentals?’
‘No. I was at a funeral.’
‘I might have guessed. It’s a bit of a hobby of yours, isn’t it, going to weddings and funerals.’
She was smiling at him. He thought she looked more lovely than ever, her eyes lively, her face quick with banter. He said suddenly:
‘Come with me somewhere, anywhere. I want to talk to you.’
She laughed at him.
‘Please . . . Lily.’
‘All right. Where?’