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
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
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 husbands 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 doesnt
stop talking to me Ill kick him. Ill 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. Morrissys 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 OMalley 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
wifes 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 mans 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. Morrissys 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 spiders. 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 pins
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
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 dragons 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 ones 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 cousins 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 OMalleys 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. Morrissys curled moustaches straightened and grew
limp and drooped. An edge of ice stiffened around Miss OMalley.
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 cousins 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 OMalley 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 mans 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 wasnt a poor man?
I asked him that, and he said he had enough to be going on
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 didnt 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
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
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 doesnt
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 doesnt 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 wouldnt 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 Ill tell you what is in my mind.—A
person that has neighbours will have either friends or enemies, and its
likely enough that hell have the last unless he has a meek spirit.
And its the same way with a man thats 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
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 doesnt like—he doesnt
like to be spied on, and he doesnt like to be ruled and regulated,
and he doesnt like to be asked for a thing he wants himself. And,
whether he lets himself be spied on or not, hell be talked about,
and in any case hell be made out to be a queer man; and if he lets
his wife rule him hell be scorned and laughed at, and if he doesnt
let her rule him hell 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 doesnt
give in at all hell get the bad name and the sour look as he goes
about his business.
You have bad neighbours, indeed, said I.
Id call them that.
And a brother that would ask you for a thing you wanted yourself
wouldnt be a decent man.
He would not.
Tell me, said I, what kind of a wife have you?
Shes the same as any one elses 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 youd go into, and they wouldnt 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
dont 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 thats well worth
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—
Ill 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 weeks 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 ones 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
His wifes 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
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 hell lose it.
Whiskers and sense were never found in the same patch.
Theres more brains in one womans finger than there
is in the congregated craniums of a battalion of men folk.
Where there is two men theres one fight. Where theres
three theres 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 flys 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
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 ones 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 husbands 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? Dont walk on the soap,
man, havent you got eyes in your head?
Im not walking on the soap with my head, he retorted,
if I was Id see it, and if it wasnt on the floor it
wouldnt be tripping folk up. A nice thing it is that a man cant
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 its the nice, clean house youd have to come into. Not that
youd mind if the place was dirty, Ill 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 Im in it
Ill 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.
Cant you be coming in then, and not stand there framed
in the doorway, gawking like a fool at a miracle.
Ill sail across if youll get a canal boat or a
raft, said he, or, if the children are kept out of sight,
Ill strip, mam, 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, youd 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
You didnt say what brought you home so early,
When a hard thing has to be done the quickest way is generally the
best way. It is like the morning bath—dont 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 weeks wages, slapped it on the table, and said—
Ive 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.
Youve got the truth of it, mam, he rejoined.
Maybe youd be telling me what you did the like of that
Because, said he, Im a man and not a mouse.
Because I dont 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, youre telling the truth, said his wife,
nodding her head at him. A man should be a man sometimes. Its
the pity of the world that he cant be a man always: and, indeed,
its the hard thing for a woman to tell herself that the man she
has got isnt a man at all, but a big fool with no more wit than
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 employers 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 Ive lost one job I can get
another. Im not afraid of work, and I know how to do it. Ill
get something to do at once, if its only wheeling a handcart, or
selling cockles in public-houses. Wisha, dry your eyes—theyre 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 mans hand on her shoulder, and she had never felt a mans
hand before, as long as she was married.
Ill go out at once, said he, and when I
come in to-night Ill 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,
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
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
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?
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
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
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—
A hat, said she, is something to cover ones
head from the rain, and a frock is something to guard ones 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, Id buy a mans clothes and wear them always, Id
call myself Harry or Tom; and then Id go wherever I pleased, and
meet whoever I wanted to meet?
She stared fixedly at herself in these garments, and under these
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—
Ill do it, said she, and she stalked gauntly across
When Brien OBrien 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 OBrien 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 ONeills
remembered it. The OTools 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 Briens 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 Briens 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
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
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
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. Briens 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,
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
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.
Theyve got it, said Rhadamanthus, let them
stew in it.
They refuse to stew, replied the spokesman, wringing
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 OBrien nation, late of the kingdom
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
its 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
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—
Its 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.
Its 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 OBrien 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 ones 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 OBrien 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 OBrien nation had the seraph Cuchulain by the
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 OBrien 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 Ill 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.