James Stephens, Here are Ladies (1913)

[ Source: Here are Ladies [London 1913] (NY Macmillan 1914; rep. March, 1914; available at Gutenburg Project – online; accessed 11.09.2020. ]


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Nothing is true for ever. A man and a fact will become equally decrepit and will tumble in the same ditch, for truth is as mortal as man, and both are outlived by the tortoise and the crow.
 To say that two is company and three is a crowd is to make a very temporary statement. After a short time satiety or use and wont has crept sunderingly between the two, and, if they are any company at all, they are bad company, who pray discreetly but passionately for the crowd which is censured by the proverb.
 If there had not been a serpent in the Garden of Eden it is likely that the bored inhabitants of Paradise would have been forced to import one from the outside wilds merely to relax the tedium of a too-sustained duet. There ought to be a law that when a man and a woman have been married for a year they should be forcibly separated for another year. In the meantime, as our law-givers have no sense, we will continue to invoke the serpent.
 Mrs. Mary Morrissy had been married for quite a time to a gentleman of respectable mentality, a sufficiency of money, and a surplus of leisure—Good things? We would say so if we dared, for we are growing old and suspicious of all appearances, and we do not easily recognize what is bad or good. Beyond the social circumference we are confronted with a debatable ground where good and bad are so merged that we cannot distinguish the one from the other. To her husband’s mental attainments (from no precipitate, dizzy peaks did he stare; it was only a tiny plain with the tiniest of hills in the centre) Mrs. Morrissy extended a courtesy entirely unmixed with awe. For his money she extended a hand which could still thrill to an unaccustomed prodigality, but for his leisure (and it was illimitable) she could find no possible use.
 The quality of permanency in a transient world is terrifying. A permanent husband is a bore, and we do not know what to do with him. He cannot be put on a shelf. He cannot be hung on a nail. He will not go out of the house. There is no escape from him, and he is always the same. A smile of a certain dimension, moustaches of this inevitable measurement, hands that waggle and flop like those of automata—these are his. He eats this way and he drinks that way, and he will continue to do so until he stiffens into the ultimate quietude. He snores on this note, he laughs on that, dissonant, unescapeable, unchanging. This is the way he walks, and he does not know how to run. A predictable beast indeed! He is known inside and out, catalogued, ticketed, and he cannot be packed away.
 Mrs. Morrissy did not yet commune with herself about it, but if her grievance was anonymous it was not unknown. There is a back-door to every mind as to every house, and although she refused it house-room, the knowledge sat on her very hearthstone whistling for recognition.
 Indeed, she could not look anywhere without seeing her husband. He was included in every landscape. His moustaches and the sun rose together. His pyjamas dawned with the moon. When the sea roared so did he, and he whispered with the river and the wind. He was in the picture but was out of drawing. He was in the song but was out of tune. He agitated her dully, surreptitiously, unceasingly. She questioned of space in a whisper, “Are we glued together?” said she. There was a bee in a flower, a burly rascal who did not care a rap for any one: he sat enjoying himself in a scented and gorgeous palace, and in him she confided:
 “If,” said she to the bee, “if that man doesn’t stop talking to me I’ll kick him. I’ll stick a pin in him if he does not go out for a walk.”
 She grew desperately nervous. She was afraid that if she looked at him any longer she would see him. To-morrow, she thought, I may notice that he is a short, fat man in spectacles, and that will be the end of everything. But the end of everything is also the beginning of everything, and so she was one half in fear and the other half in hope. A little more and she would hate him, and would begin the world again with the same little hope and the same little despair for her meagre capital.
 She had already elaborated a theory that man was intended to work, and that male sloth was offensive to Providence and should be forbidden by the law. At times her tongue thrilled, silently as yet, to certain dicta of the experienced Aunt who had superintended her youth, to the intent that a lazy man is a nuisance to himself and to everybody else; and, at last, she disguised this saying as an anecdote and repeated it pleasantly to her husband.
 He received it coldly, pondered it with disfavour, and dismissed it by arguing that her Aunt had whiskers, that a whiskered female is a freak, and that the intellectual exercises of a freak are—— He lifted his eyebrows and his shoulders. He brushed her Aunt from the tips of his fingers and blew her delicately beyond good manners and the mode.
 But time began to hang heavily on both. The intellectual antics of a leisured man become at last wearisome; his methods of thought, by mere familiarity, grow distasteful; the time comes when all the arguments are finished, there is nothing more to be said on any subject, and boredom, without even the covering, apologetic hand, yawns and yawns and cannot be appeased. Thereupon two cease to be company, and even a serpent would be greeted as a cheery and timely visitor. Dismal indeed, and not infrequent, is that time, and the vista therefrom is a long, dull yawn stretching to the horizon and the grave. If at any time we do revalue the values, let us write it down that the person who makes us yawn is a criminal knave, and then we will abolish matrimony and read Plato again.
 The serpent arrived one morning hard on Mrs. Morrissy’s pathetic pressure. It had three large trunks, a toy terrier, and a volume of verse. The trunks contained dresses, the dog insects, and the book emotion—a sufficiently enlivening trilogy! Miss Sarah O’Malley wore the dresses in exuberant rotation, Mr. Morrissy read the emotional poetry with great admiration, Mrs. Morrissy made friends with the dog, and life at once became complex and joyful.
 Mr. Morrissy, exhilarated by the emotional poetry, drew, with an instinct too human to be censured, more and more in the direction of his wife’s cousin, and that lady, having a liking for comedy, observed the agile posturings of the gentleman on a verbal summit up and down and around which he flung himself with equal dexterity and satisfaction—crudely, he made puns—and the two were further thrown together by the enforced absences of Mrs. Morrissy, into a privacy more than sealed, by reason of the attentions of a dog who would climb to her lap, and there, with an angry nose, put to no more than temporary rout the nimble guests of his jacket. Shortly Mrs. Morrissy began to look upon the toy terrier with a meditative eye.
 It was from one of these, now periodical, retreats that Mrs. Morrissy first observed the rapt attitude of her husband, and, instantly, life for her became bounding, plentiful, and engrossing.
 There is no satisfaction in owning that which nobody else covets. Our silver is no more than second-hand, tarnished metal until some one else speaks of it in terms of envy. Our husbands are barely tolerable until a lady friend has endeavoured to abstract their cloying attentions. Then only do we comprehend that our possessions are unique, beautiful, well worth guarding.
 Nobody has yet pointed out that there is an eighth sense; and yet the sense of property is more valuable and more detestable than all the others in combination. The person who owns something is civilised. It is man’s escape from wolf and monkeydom. It is individuality at last, or the promise of it, while those other ownerless people must remain either beasts of prey or beasts of burden, grinning with ineffective teeth, or bowing stupid heads for their masters’ loads, and all begging humbly for last straws and getting them.
 Under a sufficiently equable exterior Mrs. Morrissy’s blood was pulsing with greater activity than had ever moved it before. It raced! It flew! At times the tide of it thudded to her head, boomed in her ears, surged in fierce waves against her eyes. Her brain moved with a complexity which would have surprised her had she been capable of remarking upon it. Plot and counterplot! She wove webs horrid as a spider’s. She became, without knowing it, a mistress of psychology. She dissected motions and motives. She builded theories precariously upon an eyelash. She pondered and weighed the turning of a head, the handing of a sugar-bowl. She read treason in a laugh, assignations in a song, villainy in a new dress. Deeper and darker things! Profound and vicious depths plunging stark to where the devil lodged in darknesses too dusky for registration! She looked so steadily on these gulfs and murks that at last she could see anything she wished to see; and always, when times were critical, when this and that, abominations indescribable, were separate by no more than a pin’s point, she must retire from her watch (alas for a too-sensitive nature!) to chase the enemies of a dog upon which, more than ever, she fixed a meditative eye.
 To get that woman out of the house became a pressing necessity. Her cousin carried with her a baleful atmosphere. She moved cloudy with doubt. There was a diabolic aura about her face, and her hair was red! These things were patent. Was one blind or a fool? A straw will reveal the wind, so will an eyelash, a smile, the carriage of a dress. Ankles also! One saw too much of them. Let it be said then. Teeth and neck were bared too often and too broadly. If modesty was indeed more than a name, then here it was outraged. Shame too! was it only a word? Does one do this and that without even a blush? Even vice should have its good manners, its own decent retirements. If there is nothing else let there be breeding! But at this thing the world might look and understand and censure if it were not brass-browed and stupid. Sneak! Traitress! Serpent! Oh, Serpent! do you slip into our very Eden? looping your sly coils across our flowers, trailing over our beds of narcissus and our budding rose, crawling into our secret arbours and whispering-places and nests of happiness! Do you flaunt and sway your crested head with a new hat on it every day? Oh, that my Aunt were here, with the dragon’s teeth, and the red breath, and whiskers to match! Here Mrs. Morrissy jumped as if she had been bitten (as indeed she had been) and retired precipitately, eyeing the small dog that frisked about her with an eye almost petrified with meditation.
 To get that woman out of the house quickly and without scandal. Not to let her know for a moment, for the blink and twitter of an eyelid, of her triumph. To eject her with ignominy, retaining one’s own dignity in the meantime. Never to let her dream of an uneasiness that might have screamed, an anger that could have bitten and scratched and been happy in the primitive exercise. Was such a task beyond her adequacy?
 Below in the garden the late sun slanted upon her husband, as with declamatory hands and intense brows he chanted emotional poetry, ready himself on the slope of opportunity to roll into verses from his own resources. He criticised, with agile misconception, the inner meaning, the involved, hard-hidden heart of the poet; and the serpent sat before him and nodded. She smiled enchantments at him, and allurements, and subtle, subtle disagreements. On the grass at their feet the toy terrier bounded from his slumbers and curved an imperative and furious hind-leg in the direction of his ear.
 Mrs. Morrissy called the dog, and it followed her into the house, frisking joyously. From the kitchen she procured a small basket, and into this she packed some old cloths and pieces of biscuit. Then she picked up the terrier, cuffed it on both sides of the head, popped it into the basket, tucked its humbly-agitated tail under its abject ribs, closed the basket, and fastened it with a skewer. She next addressed a label to her cousin’s home, tied it to the basket, and despatched a servant with it to the railway-station, instructing her that it should be paid for on delivery.
 At breakfast the following morning her cousin wondered audibly why her little, weeny, tiny pet was not coming for its brecky.
 Mrs. Morrissy, with a smile of infinite sweetness, suggested that Miss O’Malley’s father would surely feed the brute when it arrived. “It was a filthy little beast,” said she brightly; and she pushed the toast-rack closer to her husband.
 There followed a silence which drowsed and buzzed to eternity, and during which Mr. Morrissy’s curled moustaches straightened and grew limp and drooped. An edge of ice stiffened around Miss O’Malley. Incredulity, frozen and wan, thawed into swift comprehension and dismay, lit a flame in her cheeks, throbbed burningly at the lobes of her ears, spread magnetic and prickling over her whole stung body, and ebbed and froze again to immobility. She opposed her cousin’s kind eyes with a stony brow.
 “I think,” said she rising, “that I had better see to my packing.”
 “Must you go?” said Mrs. Morrissy, with courteous unconcern, and she helped herself to cream. Her husband glared insanely at a pat of butter, and tried to look like some one who was somewhere else.
 Miss O’Malley closed the door behind her with extreme gentleness.
 So the matter lay. But the position was unchanged. For a little time peace would reign in that household, but the same driving necessity remained, and before long another, and perhaps more virulent, serpent would have to be requisitioned for the assuagement of those urgent woes. A man’s moustaches will arise with the sun; not Joshua could constrain them to the pillow after the lark had sung reveille. A woman will sit pitilessly at the breakfast table however the male eye may shift and quail. It is the business and the art of life to degrade permanencies. Fluidity is existence, there is no other, and for ever the chief attraction of Paradise must be that there is a serpent in it to keep it lively and wholesome. Lacking the serpent we are no longer in Paradise, we are at home, and our sole entertainment is to yawn when we wish to.


 In the scented bud of the morning—O,
  When the windy grass went rippling far,
  I saw my dear one walking slow
  In the field where the daisies are.

  We did not laugh and we did not speak
  As we wandered happily to and fro;
  I kissed my dear on either cheek
  In the bud of the morning—O.

  A lark sang up from the breezy land,
  A lark sang down from a cloud afar,
  And she and I went hand in hand
  In the field where the daisies are.


 He sat cross-legged on the roadside beside a heap of stones, and with slow regularity his hammer swung up and down, cracking a stone into small pieces at each descent. But his heart was not in the work. He hit whatever stone chanced to be nearest. There was no cunning selection in his hammer, nor any of these oddities of stroke which a curious and interested worker would have essayed for the mere trial of his artistry.
 He was not difficult to become acquainted with, and, after a little conversation, I discovered that all the sorrows of the world were sagging from his shoulders. Everything he had ever done was wrong, he said. Everything that people had done to him was wrong, that he affirmed; nor had he any hope that matters would mend, for life was poisoned at the fountain-head and there was no justice anywhere. Justice! he raised his eyebrows with the horrid stare of a man who searches for apparitions; he lowered them again to the bored blink of one who will not believe in apparitions even though he see them—there was not even fairness! Perhaps (and his bearing was mildly tolerant), perhaps some people believed there was fairness, but he had his share of days to count by and remember. Forty-nine years of here and there, and in and out, and up and down; walking all kinds of roads in all kinds of weathers; meeting this sort of person and that sort, and many an adventure that came and passed away without any good to it—”and now,” said he sternly, “I am breaking stones on a bye-way.”
 “A bye-road such as this,” said I, “has very few travellers, and it may prove a happy enough retreat.”
 “Or a hiding-place,” said he gloomily.
 We sat quietly for a few moments—
 “Is there no way of being happy?” said I.
 “How could you be happy if you have not got what you want?” and he thumped solidly with his hammer.
 “What do you want?” I asked.
 “Many a thing,” said he, “many a thing.”
 I squatted on the ground in front of him, and he continued—
 “You that are always travelling, did you ever meet a contented person in all your travels?”
 “Yes,” said I, “I met a man yesterday, three hills away from here, and he told me he was happy.”
 “Maybe he wasn’t a poor man?”
 “I asked him that, and he said he had enough to be going on with.”
 “I wonder what he had.”
 “I wondered too, and he told me.—He said that he had a wife, a son, an apple-tree, and a fiddle.
 “He said, that his wife was dumb, his son was deaf, his apple-tree was barren, and his fiddle was broken.”
 “It didn’t take a lot to satisfy that man.”
 “And he said, that these things, being the way they were, gave him no trouble attending on them, and so he was left with plenty of time for himself.”
 “I think the man you are telling me about was a joker; maybe you are a joker yourself for that matter.”
 “Tell me,” said I, “the sort of things a person should want, for I am a young man, and everything one learns is so much to the good.”
 He rested his hammer and stared sideways down the road, and he remained so, pursing and relaxing his lips, for a little while. At last he said in a low voice—
 “A person wants respect from other people.—If he doesn’t get that, what does he signify more than a goat or a badger? We live by what folk think of us, and if they speak badly of a man doesn’t that finish him for ever?”
 “Do people speak well of you?” I asked.
 “They speak badly of me,” said he, “and the way I am now is this, that
 I wouldn’t have them say a good word of me at all.”
 “Would you tell me why the people speak badly of you?”
 “You are travelling down the road,” said he, “and I am staying where I am. We never met before in all the years, and we may never meet again, and so I’ll tell you what is in my mind.—A person that has neighbours will have either friends or enemies, and it’s likely enough that he’ll have the last unless he has a meek spirit. And it’s the same way with a man that’s married, or a man that has a brother. For the neighbours will spy on you from dawn to dark, and talk about you in every place, and a wife will try to rule you in the house and out of the house until you are badgered to a skeleton, and a brother will ask you to give him whatever thing you value most in the world.”
 He remained silent for a few minutes, with his hammer eased on his knee, and then, in a more heated strain, he continued—
 “These are three things a man doesn’t like—he doesn’t like to be spied on, and he doesn’t like to be ruled and regulated, and he doesn’t like to be asked for a thing he wants himself. And, whether he lets himself be spied on or not, he’ll be talked about, and in any case he’ll be made out to be a queer man; and if he lets his wife rule him he’ll be scorned and laughed at, and if he doesn’t let her rule him he’ll be called a rough man; and if he once gives to his brother he will have to keep on giving for ever, and if he doesn’t give in at all he’ll get the bad name and the sour look as he goes about his business.”
 “You have bad neighbours, indeed,” said I.
 “I’d call them that.”
 “And a brother that would ask you for a thing you wanted yourself wouldn’t be a decent man.”
 “He would not.”
 “Tell me,” said I, “what kind of a wife have you?”
 “She’s the same as any one else’s wife to look at, but I fancy the other women must be different to live with.”
 “Why do you say that?”
 “Because you can hear men laughing and singing in every public-house that you’d go into, and they wouldn’t do that if their wives were hard to live with, for nobody could stand a bad comrade. A good wife, a good brother, a good neighbour—these are three good things, but you don’t find them lying in every ditch.”
 “If you went to a ditch for your wife——!” said I.
 He pursed up his lips at me.
 “I think,” said I, “that you need not mind the neighbours so very much for no one can spy on you but yourself. If your mind was in a glass case instead of in a head it would be different; and no one can really rule and regulate you but yourself, and that’s well worth doing.”
 “Different people,” said he shortly, “are made differently.”
 “Maybe,” said I, “your wife would be a good wife to some other husband, and your brother might be decent enough if he had a different brother.”
 He wrinkled up his eyes and looked at me very steadily—
 “I’ll be saying good-bye to you, young man,” said he, and he raised his hammer again and began to beat solemnly on the stones.
 I stood by him for a few minutes, but as he neither spoke nor looked at me again I turned to my own path intending to strike Dublin by the Paps of Dana and the long slopes beyond them.

 One day he chucked his job, put up his tools, told the boss he could do this and that, called hurroo to the boys, and sauntered out of the place with a great deal of dignity and one week’s wages in cash.
 There were many reasons why he should not have quitted his work, not the lightest of them being that the food of a wife and family depended on his sticking to it, but a person who has a temper cannot be expected to have everything else.
 Nothing makes a man feel better than telling his employer that he and his job can go bark at one another. It is the dream of a great many people, and were it not for the glamour of that idea most folk would commit suicide through sheer disgust. Getting the “sack” is an experience which wearies after the first time. Giving the sack is a felicity granted only to a few people. To go home to one’s wife with the information that you have been discharged is an adventure which one does not wish to repeat, but to go home and hand her thirty shillings with the statement that you have discharged yourself is not one of the pleasantest ways of passing time.
 His wife’s habits were as uncertain as her temper, but not as bad. She had a hot tongue, a red head, a quick fist and a big family—ingredients to compose a peppery dish. They had been only a short time married when she gave her husband to understand that there was to be only one head of that household, and that would not be he. He fought fiercely for a position on the executive but he did not get it. His voice in the household economy, which had commenced with the lordly “Let this be done,” concluded in the timidly blustering “All right, have it your own way.”
 Furthermore, the theory that a woman is helpmate to a man was repugnant to her. She believed and asserted that a man had to be managed, and she had several maxims to which she often gave forcible and contemptuous utterance—
 “Let a man go his own road to-day and he will be shaking hands with the devil to-morrow.
 “Give a man his head and he’ll lose it.
 “Whiskers and sense were never found in the same patch.
 “There’s more brains in one woman’s finger than there is in the congregated craniums of a battalion of men folk.
 “Where there is two men there’s one fight. Where there’s three there’s a drinking match, two fights and a fine to be paid.”
 But while advocating peace at any price and a tax on muscles that were bigger than a fly’s knuckle she was herself a warrior of the breed of Finn and strong enough to scare a pugilist. When she was angry her family got over the garden wall, her husband first. She did not think very much of him, and she told him so, but he was sufficient of a man not to believe her.
 For a long time he had been a dissatisfied person, leading a grumpy existence which was only made bearable by gusts of solitary blasphemy. When a man curses openly he is healthy enough, but when he takes to either swearing or drinking in secret then he has travelled almost beyond redemption point.
 So behold our man knocking at the door, still warmed by the fray with his late employer, but with the first tremors of fear beginning to tatter up and down his spine.
 His wife opened the door herself. She was engaged in cleaning the place, a duty in which she was by no means remiss, one of the prime points in her philosophy being that a house was not clean until one’s food could be eaten off the floor. She was a big comely woman, but at the moment she did not look dainty. A long wisp of red hair came looping down on her shoulders. A smear of soot toned down the roses of her cheek, her arms were smothered in soap suds, and the fact that she was wearing a pair of her husband’s boots added nothing to her attractions.
 When she saw her husband standing in the doorway at this unaccustomed hour she was a little taken aback, but, scenting trouble, she at once opened the attack—
 “What in the name of heaven brings you here at this hour of the day, and the place upset the way it is? Don’t walk on the soap, man, haven’t you got eyes in your head?”
 “I’m not walking on the soap with my head,” he retorted, “if I was I’d see it, and if it wasn’t on the floor it wouldn’t be tripping folk up. A nice thing it is that a man can’t come into his own house without being set slipping and sliding like an acrobat on an iceberg.”
 “And,” cried his wife, “if I kept the soap locked up it’s the nice, clean house you’d have to come into. Not that you’d mind if the place was dirty, I’ll say that much for you, for what one is reared to one likes, and what is natural is pleasant. But I got a different rearing let me tell you, and while I’m in it I’ll have the clean house no matter who wants the dirty one.”
 “You will so,” said he, looking at the soapy water for a place to walk on.
 “Can’t you be coming in then, and not stand there framed in the doorway, gawking like a fool at a miracle.”
 “I’ll sail across if you’ll get a canal boat or a raft,” said he, “or, if the children are kept out of sight, I’ll strip, ma’m, and swim for it.”
 His wife regarded him with steady gloom.
 “If you took the smallest interest in your home,” said she, “and were less set on gallivanting about the country, going to the Lord knows where, with the Lord knows who, you’d know that the children were away in school at this hour. Nice indeed the places you visit and the company you keep, if the truth were known—walk across it, man, and wipe your feet on the kitchen mat.”
 So he walked into the kitchen, and sat down, and, as he sat, the last remnants of his courage trembled down into his boots and evaporated.
 His wife came in after him—she drooped a speculative eye on her lord—
 “You didn’t say what brought you home so early,” said she.
 When a hard thing has to be done the quickest way is generally the best way. It is like the morning bath—don’t ruminate, jump in, for the longer you wait the more dubious you get, and the tub begins to look arctic and repellent.
 Some such philosophy as this dictated his attitude. He lugged out his week’s wages, slapped it on the table, and said—
 “I’ve got the sack.”
 Then he stretched his legs out, pushed his fists deep into his trouser pockets, and waited.
 His wife sat down too, slowly and with great care, and she stared in silence at her husband—
 “Do you tell me you have lost your employment?” said she in a quiet voice.
 “I do, then,” said he. “I chucked it myself. I told old Whiskers that he could go and boil his job and his head together and sell the soup for cat-lap.”
 “You threw up your situation yourself.”
 “You’ve got the truth of it, ma’m,” he rejoined.
 “Maybe you’d be telling me what you did the like of that for?”
 “Because,” said he, “I’m a man and not a mouse. Because I don’t want to be at the beck and call of every dog and devil that has a bit more money than I have—a man has got to be a man sometimes,” he growled.
 “Sure, you’re telling the truth,” said his wife, nodding her head at him. “A man should be a man sometimes. It’s the pity of the world that he can’t be a man always: and, indeed, it’s the hard thing for a woman to tell herself that the man she has got isn’t a man at all, but a big fool with no more wit than a boy.”
 Now this was the first time he had found his wife take trouble lying down. As a rule she was readier for a fight than he was. She jumped into a row with the alacrity of a dog: and the change worked on him. He looked at her listless hands, and the sight of those powerful organs hanging so powerlessly wrought on him. Women often forget that their weakness is really their strength. The weakest things in the world are by a queer paradox always the strongest. The toughest stone will wear away under the dropping of water, a mushroom will lift a rock on its delicate head, a child will make its father work for it. So the too capable woman will always have a baby to nurse, and that baby will be her husband. If she buttress her womanhood too much she saps his manhood. Let her love all she can and never stint that blessing, but a woman cannot often be obeyed and loved at the same time. A man cannot obey a woman constantly and retain his self-respect: the muscles of his arms reproach him if he does, and the man with his self-respect gone is a man with a grudge, he will learn to hate the agent who brought him low. A day may come when he will rise and beat her in self-defence, with his fists if he is sufficiently brutalised, some subtler, but no less efficient, weapon if his manhood refuses to be degraded—and this was our case. His wife had grabbed the reins and driven the matrimonial coach: driven it well, that is true, but the driver, by right of precedent, had sat by hurt and angry, and at last, in an endeavour to prove his manhood among men, he had damned his employer’s self and work, although in reality all his fury was directed against the mother of his children. He threw up his work, and the semi-conscious thought that went home with him was—”Now she will be sorry. If she must do everything let her earn the bread.”
 The woman knew what poverty meant, and she had four young children. It was the thought of these helpless ones crying with hunger (she could hear them already, her ears were dinned with their hungry lamentation) that took the fibre out of her arms, and left her without any fight. She could only sit and look with wretched eyes on the man whom she had been demoralising, and, for the first time since he knew her, the tears came, and the poor woman laid her head on the kitchen table and wept.
 He was astonished, he was dismayed, but he could not stand her tears: he ran to her—the first time he ever did run to her—
 “Sure, darling,” said he, “is it crying you are? What would you be doing that for? If I’ve lost one job I can get another. I’m not afraid of work, and I know how to do it. I’ll get something to do at once, if it’s only wheeling a handcart, or selling cockles in public-houses. Wisha, dry your eyes—they’re as pretty as they ever were,” said he, trying to look at them, while his wife, with a strange shyness, would not let him see, for she felt that there was a strange man with her, some one she did not know. That was a man’s hand on her shoulder, and she had never felt a man’s hand before, as long as she was married.
 “I’ll go out at once,” said he, “and when I come in to-night I’ll have a job if I have to bang it out of some one with a shovel.”
 He slapped on his hat, kicked the soap out of the way, tramped through the water on the floor, and when at the door he turned again and came back to kiss his wife, a form of caress which had long fallen into desuetude, and so, out into the street, a man again.
 When he had gone his wife returned to her scrubbing, and, as she worked she smiled at something she was remembering, and, now and again, a bit of a song came from lips that had scolded so much. Having finished her work she spent nearly an hour at the looking-glass doing up her hair (grand hair it was, too) with her ears listening for a footstep. Now and again she would run to the pot to see were the potatoes doing all right—”The children will be in shortly,” said she, “and hungry to the bone, poor dears.”
 But she was not thinking of the children. The warmth of a kiss was still on her lips. Something in the back of her head was saying—”He will do it again when he comes in.”
 And the second honeymoon was pleasanter than the first.

 She was tall and angular. Her hair was red, and scarce, and untidy. Her hands were large and packed all over with knuckles and her feet would have turned inwards at the toes, only that she was aware of and corrected their perversities.
 She was sitting all alone, and did not look up as I approached—
 “Tell me,” said I, “why you have sat for more than an hour with your eyes fixed on nothing, and your hands punching your lap?”
 She looked at me for a fleeting instant, and then, looking away again, she began to speak.—Her voice was pleasant enough, but it was so strong that one fancied there were bones in it—
 “I do not dislike women,” said she, “but I think they seldom speak of anything worth listening to, nor do they often do anything worth looking at: they bore and depress me, and men do not.”
 “But,” said I, “you have not explained why you thump your lap with your fist?”
 She proceeded—
 “I do not hate women, nor do I love men. It was only that I did not take much notice of the one, and that I liked being with the other, for, as things are, there is very little life for a person except in thinking. All our actions are so cumbered by laws and customs that we cannot take a step beyond the ordinary without finding ourselves either in gaol or in Coventry.”
 Having said this, she raised her bleak head and stared like an eagle across the wastes.
 After I had coughed twice I touched her arm, and said—
 “One must live,” said she quickly. “I do not mean that we must eat and sleep—these mechanical matters are settled for many of us, but life consists in thinking, and nothing else, yet many people go from the cradle to the grave without having lived differently from animals. I do not want to be one of them. Their whole theory of life is mechanical. They eat and drink. They invite each other to their houses to eat and drink, and they use such speech as they are gifted with in discussing their food and whatever other palpable occurrence may have chanced to them in the day. It is a step, perhaps, towards living, but it is still only one step removed from stagnation. They have some interest in an occurrence, but how that occurrence happened, and what will result from it does not exercise them in the least, and these, which are knowledge and prophecy, are the only interesting aspects of any event.”
 “But,” said I, “you have not told me why you sit for a full hour staring at vacancy, and thumping on your knee with your hand?”
 She continued—.
 “Sometimes one meets certain people who have sufficient of the divine ferment in their heads to be called alive: they are almost always men. We fly to them as to our own people. We abase ourselves before them in happy humility. We crave to be allowed to live near them in order that we may be assured that everything in the world is not nonsense and machinery—and then, what do we find—?”
 She paused, and turned a large fierce eye upon me.
 “I do not know,” said I, and I endeavoured vainly to look everywhere but at her eye.
 “We find always that they are married,” said she, and, saying so, she lapsed again to a tense and worried reflection.
 “You have not told me,” I insisted gently, “why you peer earnestly into space, and thump at intervals upon your knee with the heel of your fist?”
 “These men,” said she sternly, “are surrounded by their wives. They are in gaol and their wives are their warders. You cannot go to them without a permit. You may not speak to them without a listener. You may not argue with them for fear of raising an alien and ridiculous hostility. Scarcely can you even look at them without reproach.—How then can we live, and how will the torch of life be kept alight?”
 “I do not know,” I murmured.
 She turned her pale eye to me again.
 “I am not beautiful,” said she.
 But there was just a tremor of doubt in her voice, so that the apparent statement became packed with curiosity, and had all the quality of a question.
 I did not shrug my shoulder nor raise an eyebrow—
 “You are very nice,” I replied.
 “I do not want to be beautiful,” she continued severely. “Why should I? I have no interest in such things. I am interested only in living, and living is thinking; but I demand access to my fellows who are alive. Perhaps, I did not pay those others enough attention. How could I? They cannot think. They cannot speak. They make a complicated verbal noise, but all I am able to translate from it is, that a something called lip-salve can be bought in some particular shop one penny cheaper than it can in a certain other shop. They will twitter for hours about the way a piece of ribbon was stitched to a hat which they saw in a tramcar. They agitate themselves wondering whether a muff should be this size or that size?—I say, they depress me, and if I do turn my back on them when men are present I am only acting sensibly and justly. Why cannot they twitter to each other and let me and other people alone?”
 She turned to me again—
 “I do not know,” said I meekly.
 “And,” she continued, “the power they have; the amazing power they have to annoy other folk. All kinds of sly impertinences, vulgar evasions, and sneering misunderstandings. Why should such women be allowed to take men into their captivity, to sequester, and gag, and restrain them from those whom they would naturally be eager to meet?
 “What,” she continued fiercely, “had my hat to do with that woman, or my frock?”
 I nodded slowly and grievously, and repeated—
 “What indeed?”
 “A hat,” said she, “is something to cover one’s head from the rain, and a frock is something to guard one’s limbs from inclement weather.—To that extent I am interested in these things: but they would put a hat on my mind, and a black cloth on my understanding.”
 We sat in silence for a little time, while she surveyed the bleak horizon as an eagle might.
 “And when I call at their houses,” said she, “their servants say ‘Not at home,’ a lie, you know, and they close their doors on me.”
 She was silent again—
 “I do not know what to do,” said she.
 “Is that,” said I, “the reason why you beat your lap with your hand, and stare abroad like a famished eagle?”
 She turned quickly to me—
 “What shall I do to open those doors?” said she.
 “If I happened to be you,” I replied, “I would cut off my hair, I’d buy a man’s clothes and wear them always, I’d call myself Harry or Tom; and then I’d go wherever I pleased, and meet whoever I wanted to meet?”
 She stared fixedly at herself in these garments, and under these denominations—
 “They would know I was not a man,” said she gravely.
 I looked at her figure—
 “No person in the world would ever guess it,” said I.
 She arose from her seat. She clutched her reticule to her breast—
 “I’ll do it,” said she, and she stalked gauntly across the fields.


When Brien O’Brien died, people said that it did not matter very much, because he would have died young in any case. He would have been hanged, or his head would have been split in two halves with a hatchet, or he would have tumbled down the cliff when he was drunk and been smashed into jelly. Something like that was due to him, and everybody likes to see a man get what he deserves to get.
 But, as ethical writs cease to run when a man is dead, the neighbours did not stay away from his wake. They came, and they said many mitigating things across the body with the bandaged jaws and the sly grin, and they reminded each other of this and that queer thing which he had done, for his memory was crusted over with stories of wild, laughable things, and other things which were wild but not laughable.
 Meanwhile, he was dead, and one was at liberty to be a trifle sorry for him. Further, he belonged to the O’Brien nation, a stock to whom reverence was due. A stock not easily forgotten. The historic memory could reconstruct forgotten glories of station and battle, of terrible villainy and terrible saintliness, the pitiful, valorous, slow descent to the degradation which was not yet wholly victorious. A great stock! The O’Neills remembered it. The O’Tools and the MacSweeneys had stories by the hundred of love and hate. The Burkes and the Geraldines and the new strangers had memories also.
 His family was left in the poorest way, but they were used to that, for he had kept them as poor as he left them, or found them, for that matter. They had shaken hands with Charity so often that they no longer disliked the sallow-faced lady, and, so, certain small gifts made by the neighbours were accepted, not very thankfully, but very readily. These gifts were almost always in kind. A few eggs. A bag of potatoes. A handful of meal. A couple of twists of tea—such like.
 One of the visitors, however, moved by an extraordinary dejection, slipped a silver threepenny-piece into the hand of Brien’s little daughter, Sheila, aged four years, and later on she did not like to ask for it back again.
 Little Sheila had been well trained by her father. She knew exactly what should be done with money, and so, when nobody was looking, she tip-toed to the coffin and slipped the threepenny-piece into Brien’s hand. That hand had never refused money when it was alive, it did not reject it either when it was dead.
 They buried him the next day.
 He was called up for judgment the day after, and made his appearance with a miscellaneous crowd of wretches, and there he again received what was due to him. He was removed protesting and struggling to the place decreed.
 “Down,” said Rhadamanthus, pointing with his great hand, and down he went.
 In the struggle he dropped the threepenny-piece, but he was so bustled and heated that he did not observe his loss. He went down, far down, out of sight, out of remembrance, to a howling, black gulf with others of his unseen kind.
 A young seraph, named Cuchulain, chancing to pass that way shortly afterwards, saw the threepenny-piece peeping brightly from the rocks, and he picked it up.
 He looked at it in astonishment. He turned it over and over, this way and that way. Examined it at the stretch of his arm, and peered minutely at it from two inches distance—
 “I have never in my life seen anything so beautifully wrought,” said he, and, having stowed it in his pouch along with some other trinkets, he strolled homewards again through the massy gates.
 It was not long until Brien discovered his loss, and, suddenly, through the black region, his voice went mounting and brawling.
 “I have been robbed,” he yelled. “I have been robbed in heaven!”
 Having begun to yell he did not stop. Sometimes he was simply angry and made a noise. Sometimes he became sarcastic and would send his query swirling upwards—
 “Who stole the threepenny-bit?” he roared. He addressed the surrounding black space—
 “Who stole the last threepenny-bit of a poor man?”
 Again and again his voice pealed upwards. The pains of his habitation lost all their sting for him. His mind had nourishment and the heat within him vanquished the fumes without. He had a grievance, a righteous cause, he was buoyed and strengthened, nothing could silence him. They tried ingenious devices, all kinds of complicated things, but he paid no heed, and the tormentors were in despair.
 “I hate these sinners from the kingdom of Kerry,” said the Chief Tormentor, and he sat moodily down on his own circular saw; and that worried him also, for he was clad only in a loin cloth.
 “I hate the entire Clan of the Gael,” said he; “why cannot they send them somewhere else?” and then he started practising again on Brien.
 It was no use. Brien’s query still blared upwards like the sound of the great trump itself. It wakened and rung the rocky caverns, screamed through fissure and funnel, and was battered and slung from pinnacle to crag and up again. Worse! his companions in doom became interested and took up the cry, until at last the uproar became so appalling that the Master himself could not stand it.
 “I have not had a wink of sleep for three nights,” said that harassed one, and he sent a special embassy to the powers.
 Rhadamanthus was astonished when they arrived. His elbow was leaning on his vast knee, and his heavy head rested on a hand that was acres long, acres wide.
 “What is all this about?” said he.
 “The Master cannot go to sleep,” said the spokesman of the embassy, and he grinned as he said it, for it sounded queer even to himself.
 “It is not necessary that he should sleep,” said Rhadamanthus. “I have never slept since time began, and I will never sleep until time is over. But the complaint is curious. What has troubled your master?”
 “Hell is turned upside down and inside out,” said the fiend. “The tormentors are weeping like little children. The principalities are squatting on their hunkers doing nothing. The orders are running here and there fighting each other. The styles are leaning against walls shrugging their shoulders, and the damned are shouting and laughing and have become callous to torment.”
 “It is not my business,” said the judge.
 “The sinners demand justice,” said the spokesman.
 “They’ve got it,” said Rhadamanthus, “let them stew in it.”
 “They refuse to stew,” replied the spokesman, wringing his hands.
 Rhadamanthus sat up.
 “It is an axiom in law,” said he, “that however complicated an event may be, there can never be more than one person at the extreme bottom of it. Who is the person?”
 “It is one Brien of the O’Brien nation, late of the kingdom of Kerry.
 A bad one! He got the maximum punishment a week ago.”
 For the first time in his life Rhadamanthus was disturbed. He scratched his head, and it was the first time he had ever done that either.
 “You say he got the maximum,” said Rhadamanthus, “then it’s a fix! I have damned him for ever, and better or worse than that cannot be done. It is none of my business,” said he angrily, and he had the deputation removed by force.
 But that did not ease the trouble. The contagion spread until ten million billions of voices were chanting in unison, and uncountable multitudes were listening between their pangs.
 “Who stole the threepenny-bit? Who stole the threepenny-bit?”
 That was still their cry. Heaven rang with it as well as hell. Space was filled with that rhythmic tumult. Chaos and empty Nox had a new discord added to their elemental throes. Another memorial was drafted below, showing that unless the missing coin was restored to its owner hell would have to close its doors. There was a veiled menace in the memorial also, for Clause 6 hinted that if hell was allowed to go by the board heaven might find itself in some jeopardy thereafter.
 The document was dispatched and considered. In consequence a proclamation was sent through all the wards of Paradise, calling on whatever person, archangel, seraph, cherub, or acolyte had found a threepenny-piece since midday of the tenth of August then instant, that the same person, archangel, seraph, cherub, or acolyte, should deliver the said threepenny-piece to Rhadamanthus at his Court, and should receive in return a free pardon and a receipt.
 The coin was not delivered,
 That young seraph, Cuchulain, walked about like a person who was strange to himself. He was not tormented: he was angry. He frowned, he cogitated and fumed. He drew one golden curl through his fingers until it was lank and drooping; save the end only, that was still a ripple of gold. He put the end in his mouth and strode moodily chewing it. And every day his feet turned in the same direction—down the long entrance boulevard, through the mighty gates, along the strip of carved slabs, to that piled wilderness where Rhadamanthus sat monumentally.
 Here delicately he went, sometimes with a hand outstretched to help his foothold, standing for a space to think ere he jumped to a further rock, balancing himself for a moment ere he leaped again. So he would come to stand and stare gloomily upon the judge.
 He would salute gravely, as was meet, and say, “God bless the work”; but Rhadamanthus never replied, save by a nod, for he was very busy.
 Yet the judge did observe him, and would sometimes heave ponderous lids to where he stood, and so, for a few seconds, they regarded each other in an interval of that unceasing business.
 Sometimes for a minute or two the young seraph Cuchulain would look from the judge to the judged as they crouched back or strained forward, the good and the bad all in the same tremble of fear, all unknowing which way their doom might lead. They did not look at each other. They looked at the judge high on his ebon throne, and they could not look away from him. There were those who knew, guessed clearly their doom; abashed and flaccid they sat, quaking. There were some who were uncertain—rabbit-eyed these, not less quaking than the others, biting at their knuckles as they peeped upwards. There were those hopeful, yet searching fearfully backwards in the wilderness of memory, chasing and weighing their sins; and these last, even when their bliss was sealed and their steps set on an easy path, went faltering, not daring to look around again, their ears strained to catch a—”Halt, miscreant! this other is your way!”
 So, day by day, he went to stand near the judge; and one day Rhadamanthus, looking on him more intently, lifted his great hand and pointed—
 “Go you among those to be judged,” said he.
 For Rhadamanthus knew. It was his business to look deep into the heart and the mind, to fish for secrets in the pools of being.
 And the young seraph Cuchulain, still rolling his golden curl between his lips, went obediently forward and set down his nodding plumes between two who whimpered and stared and quaked.
 When his turn came, Rhadamanthus eyed him intently for a long time—
 “Well!” said Rhadamanthus.
 The young seraph Cuchulain blew the curl of gold away from his mouth—
 “Findings are keepings,” said he loudly, and he closed his mouth and stared very impertinently at the judge.
 “It is to be given up,” said the judge.
 “Let them come and take it from me,” said the seraph Cuchulain. And suddenly (for these things are at the will of spirits) around his head the lightnings span, and his hands were on the necks of thunders.
 For the second time in his life Rhadamanthus was disturbed, again he scratched his head—
 “It’s a fix,” said he moodily. But in a moment he called to those whose duty it was—
 “Take him to this side,” he roared.
 And they advanced. But the seraph Cuchulain swung to meet them, and his golden hair blazed and shrieked; and the thunders rolled at his feet, and about him a bright network that hissed and stung—and those who advanced turned haltingly backwards and ran screaming.
 “It’s a fix,” said Rhadamanthus; and for a little time he stared menacingly at the seraph Cuchulain.
 But only for a little time. Suddenly he put his hands on the rests of his throne and heaved upwards his terrific bulk. Never before had Rhadamanthus stood from his ordained chair. He strode mightily forward and in an instant had quelled that rebel. The thunders and lightnings were but moonbeams and dew on that stony carcass. He seized the seraph Cuchulain, lifted him to his breast as one lifts a sparrow, and tramped back with him—
 “Fetch me that other,” said he, sternly, and he sat down.
 Those whose duty it was sped swiftly downwards to find Brien of the O’Brien nation; and while they were gone, all in vain the seraph Cuchulain crushed flamy barbs against that bosom of doom. Now, indeed, his golden locks were drooping and his plumes were broken and tossed; but his fierce eye still glared courageously against the nipple of Rhadamanthus.
 Soon they brought Brien. He was a sight of woe—howling, naked as a tree in winter, black as a tarred wall, carved and gashed, tattered in all but his throat, wherewith, until one’s ears rebelled, he bawled his one demand.
 But the sudden light struck him to a wondering silence, and the sight of the judge holding the seraph Cuchulain like a limp flower to his breast held him gaping—
 “Bring him here,” said Rhadamanthus.
 And they brought him to the steps of the throne—
 “You have lost a medal!” said Rhadamanthus. “This one has it.”
 Brien looked straitly at the seraph Cuchulain.
 Rhadamanthus stood again, whirled his arm in an enormous arc, jerked, and let go, and the seraph Cuchulain went swirling through space like a slung stone—
 “Go after him, Kerryman,” said Rhadamanthus, stooping; and he seized Brien by the leg, whirled him wide and out and far; dizzy, dizzy as a swooping comet, and down, and down, and down.
 Rhadamanthus seated himself. He motioned with his hand—
 “Next,” said he, coldly.
 Down went the seraph Cuchulain, swirling in wide tumbles, scarcely visible for quickness. Sometimes, with outstretched hands, he was a cross that dropped plumb. Anon, head urgently downwards, he dived steeply. Again, like a living hoop, head and heels together, he spun giddily. Blind, deaf, dumb, breathless, mindless; and behind him Brien of the O’Brien nation came pelting and whizzing.
 What of that journey! Who could give it words? Of the suns that appeared and disappeared like winking eyes. Comets that shone for an instant, went black and vanished. Moons that came, and stood, and were gone. And around all, including all, boundless space, boundless silence; the black, unmoving void—the deep, unending quietude, through which they fell with Saturn and Orion, and mildly-smiling Venus, and the fair, stark-naked moon and the decent earth wreathed in pearl and blue. From afar she appeared, the quiet one, all lonely in the void. As sudden as a fair face in a crowded street. Beautiful as the sound of falling waters. Beautiful as the sound of music in a silence. Like a white sail on a windy sea. Like a green tree in a solitary place. Chaste and wonderful she was. Flying afar. Flying aloft like a joyous bird when the morning breaks on the darkness and he shrills sweet tidings. She soared and sang. Gently she sang to timid pipes and flutes of tender straw and murmuring, distant strings. A song that grew and swelled, gathering to a multitudinous, deep-thundered harmony, until the over-burdened ear failed before the appalling uproar of her ecstasy, and denounced her. No longer a star! No longer a bird! A plumed and horned fury! Gigantic, gigantic, leaping and shrieking tempestuously, spouting whirlwinds of lightning, tearing gluttonously along her path, avid, rampant, howling with rage and terror she leaped, dreadfully she leaped and flew... .
 Enough! They hit the earth—they were not smashed, there was that virtue in them. They hit the ground just outside the village of Donnybrook where the back road runs to the hills; and scarcely had they bumped twice when Brien of the O’Brien nation had the seraph Cuchulain by the throat—
 “My threepenny-bit,” he roared, with one fist up—
 But the seraph Cuchulain only laughed—
 “That!” said he. “Look at me, man. Your little medal dropped far beyond the rings of Saturn.”
 And Brien stood back looking at him—He was as naked as Brien was. He was as naked as a stone, or an eel, or a pot, or a new-born babe. He was very naked.
 So Brien of the O’Brien nation strode across the path and sat down by the side of a hedge—
 “The first man that passes this way,” said he, “will give me his clothes, or I’ll strangle him.”
 The seraph Cuchulain walked over to him—
 “I will take the clothes of the second man that passes,” said he, and he sat down.

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