LOVERS WHO LOST
Young Mr. OGrady was in love. It was the first time
he had been in love, and it was all sufficiently startling.
He seemed to have leaped from boyhood to manhood at a stroke,
and the things which had pretended to be of moment yesterday
were to-day discovered to have only the very meanest importance.
Different affairs now occupied him. A little while ago his cogitations
had included, where he would walk to on the next Sunday, whether
his aunt in Meath Street would lend him the price of a ticket
for the coming Bank Holiday excursion, whether his brother would
be using his bicycle on Saturday afternoon, and whether the
packet of cigarettes which he was momently smoking contained
as many cigarettes as could be got elsewhere for two pence.
These things were no longer noteworthy. Clothing had assumed
an importance he could scarcely have believed in. Boots, neck-ties,
the conduct of ones hat and of ones head, the progress
of ones moustache, ones bearing towards people in
the street and in the house, this and that social observance—all
these things took on a new and important dignity. He bought
a walking-stick, a card-case, a purse, a pipe with a glass bottom
wherein one could observe ones own nicotine inexorably
accumulating.—He bought a book on etiquette and a pot of paste
for making moustaches grow in spite of providence, and one day
he insisted on himself drinking a half glass of whisky—it tasted
sadly, but he drank it without a grimace. Etiquette and whisky!
these things have to be done, and one might as well do them
with an air. He was in love, he was grown up, he was a man,
and he lived fearlessly up to his razor and his lady.
From the book on etiquette he exhumed a miscellany of
useful and peculiar wisdom. Following information about the
portage of knives and forks at incredible dinners he discovered
that a well-bred person always speaks to the young ladys
parents before he speaks to the young lady. He straightened
his shoulders.—It would be almost as bad, he thought, as having
to drink whisky, but if it had to be done why he would not shrink
from this any more than he had from that. He set forth on the
Mr. OReilly was a scrivener, a husband and a father.
He made copies of all kinds of documents for a living. He also
copied maps. It has been said that scriveners have to get drunk
at least twice a week in order to preserve their sanity; but
the person whose miserable employment is to draw copies of maps
is more desperately environed than an ordinary scrivener. It
was Mr. OReillys misfortune that he was unable to
get drunk. He disliked liquor, and, moreover, it disagreed with
him. He had, to paraphrase Lamb, toiled after liquor as other
people toil after virtue, but the nearer he got the less did
he like it. As a consequence of this enforced decency the ill-temper,
which is the normal state of scriveners, had surged and buzzed
around him so long that he had quite forgotten what a good temper
was like.—It might be said that he hated every one, not excepting
his wife and daughter. He could avoid other people, but these
he could never escape from. They wanted to talk to him when
he wanted to be let alone. They worried him with this and that
domestic question or uproar. He would gladly have sold them
both as slaves to the Barbadoes or presented them to the seraglio
of any eastern potentate. There they were! and he often gnashed
his teeth and grinned at them in amazement because they were
On the evening when young Mr. OGrady sallied forth
to ask him for the hand of his daughter in marriage he was sitting
at supper with his consort—
Mr. OReilly took the last slice of bread from under
his wifes hand. It was loot, so he ate it with an extra
relish and his good lady waddled away to get more bread from
Everythings a trouble, said she, as
she cut the loaf. Doesnt it make you think of the
hymn ‘Im but a stranger here, heaven is my home?
No, mam, said her husband, it
does not. Where is Julia Elizabeth? and he daringly and
skilfully abstracted the next slice of bread while his wife
was laying down the butter knife.
I wish, said she, as she reached for the knife
again, I wish you would give me a chance, OReilly:
you eat much quicker than I do, God help me!
I wish, rapped her husband fiercely, that
you would give a plain answer to a plain question. Now then,
mam, in two words, where is that girl? My whole life seems
to be occupied in asking that question, and yours seems to be
spent in dodging the answer to it.
I dont know, replied his wife severely,
and thats three words.
You dont know! he looked around in helpless
appeal and condemnation. What sort of an answer is that
for a mother to give about her daughter? and under cover
of his wrath he stole the next slice of bread.
His wife also became angry—she put her plate in her lap
and sat up at him—
Dont barge me, man, said she. A
nice daughter to have to give such an answer about. Leave me
alone now for Im not well, I say, on the head of her.
I never know where she does be. One night its (she endeavoured
to reproduce her daughters soprano) ‘I am going to a dance,
mother, at the Durkins——
Hapenny hops! said her husband fiercely.
Cant you cut me a bit of bread!
And another night, ‘she wants to go out to see Mary
I know her well, a big hat and no morals, a bankrupts
And the night after she ‘wants to go to the theatre,
Dens of infamy, said he. If I had my
way Id shut them all up and put the actors in gaol, with
their hamleting and gamyacting and ha-haing out of them.
I cant keep her in, said his wife, wringing
her hands, and I wont try to any longer. I get a
headache when I talk to her, so I do. Last night when I mentioned
about her going out with that Rorke man she turned round as
cool as you please and told me ‘to shut up. Her own mother!
and she surveyed Providence with a condemnatory eye—
At this point her husband swung his long arm and arrested
the slice of bread in his wifes lap—
If she spoke to me that way, he grinned, Ill
bet Id astonish her.
His wife looked in amazement from her lap to his plate,
but she had ability for only one quarrel at a time—
And doesnt she talk to you like that? You
never say a word to her but she has a look in her eye thats
next door to calling you a fool.—I dont know where she
is at all to-day.
What time did she go out?
After breakfast this morning.
And now its supper-time—ha! thats good!
Cant you give me a bit of bread, or do you want to eat
the whole loaf yourself? Try to remember that I do pay for my
With an angry shake of the head his wife began to cut
the loaf, and continued speaking—
‘Where are you going to, Julia Elizabeth?
said I. ‘Out, said she, and not another word could I get
from her. Her own mother, mind you, and her best clothes——
Mr. OReilly ate the last slice of bread and arose
from the table.
I suppose, said he, she is loafing about
the streets with some young puppy who has nothing of his own
but a cigarette and a walking-stick, and they both borrowed.
Ill have a talk with her when she comes in, and well
see if she tells me to shut up.
The door banged, the room shook, and Mrs. OReilly
settled to her frustrated tea, but her thoughts still ran on
It was at this point that, directed by love and etiquette,
Mr. OGrady knocked at the door. Mrs. OReilly was
again cutting the loaf in an exasperation which was partly hunger
and partly maternal, and, as she cut, she communed with herself—
As if, said she, I havent enough
trouble trying to keep a cranky man like her pa in good humour,
without being plagued by Julia Elizabeth—she paused, for
there was a knock at the door.—If, said she to the
door, you are a woman with ferns in a pot I dont
want you, and I dont want Dublin Bay herrings, or boot-laces
either, so you can go away.—The crankiness of that man is more
than tongue can tell. As Miss Carty says, I shouldnt stand
it for an hour—Come in, cant you—and well she may say
it, and she a spinster without a worry under heaven but her
suspicious nature and her hair falling out. And then to be treated
the way I am by that girl! Itd make a saint waxy so it
would.—Good heavens! cant you come in, or are you deaf
or lame or what? and in some exasperation she arose and
went to the door. She looked in perplexity for one moment from
her food to her visitor, but as good manners and a lady are
never separate she welcomed and drew the young man inside—
Come in, Mr. OGrady, said she. How
are you now at all? Why its nearly a week since you were
here. Your mothers well I hope (sit down there now and
rest yourself). Some people are always well, but Im not—its
(sit there beside the window, like a good boy) its hard
to have poor health and a crotchety husband, but we all have
our trials. Is your father well too? but whats the use
of asking, every ones well but me. Did your aunt get the
pot of jam I sent her last Tuesday? Raspberry is supposed to
be good for the throat, but her throats all right. Maybe
she threw it out: Im not blaming her if she did. God knows
she can buy jam if she wants it without being beholden to any
one for presents and her husband in the Post Office.—Well, well,
well, Im real glad to see you—and now, tell me all the
The young man was a little embarrassed by this flood of
language and its multiplicity of direction, but the interval
gave him time to collect himself and get into the atmosphere.—He
I dont think there is any news to tell, mam.
Father and mother are quite well, thank you, and Aunt Jane got
the jam all right, but she didnt eat it, because——
I knew she didnt, said Mrs. OReilly
with pained humility, we all have our troubles and jam
doesnt matter. Give her my love all the same, but maybe
she doesnt want it either.
You see, said the young man, the children
got at the jam before she could, and they cleaned the pot. Aunt
Jane was very angry about it.
Was she now? said the instantly interested
lady. Its real bad for a stout person to be angry.
Apoplexy or something might ensue and death would be instantaneous
and cemeteries the price they are in Glasnevin and all: but
the children shouldnt have eaten all the jam at once,
its bad for the stomach that way: still, God is good and
maybe theyll recover.
They dont seem much the worse for it,
said he, laughing; they said it was fine jam.
Well they might, replied his hostess, with
suppressed indignation, and raspberries eightpence the
pound in Grafton Street, and the best preserving sugar twopence-three-farthings,
and coal the way it is.—Ah, no matter, God is good, and we cant
live for ever.
The four seconds of silence which followed was broken
by the lover—
Is Julia Elizabeth in, mam? said he
Shes not, then, was the reply. We
all have our trials, Mr. OGrady, and shes mine.
I dont complain, but I dont deserve it, for a harder
working woman never lived, but there you are.
Im rather glad shes out, said
the youth hastily, for I wanted to speak to yourself and
your husband before I said anything to her.
Mrs. OReilly wheeled slowly to face him—
Did you now? said she, and is it about
Julia Elizabeth you came over? Well, well, well, just to think
of it! But I guessed it long ago, when you bought the yellow
boots. Shes a real good girl, Mr. OGrady. Theres
many and manys the young man, and they in good positions,
mind you—but maybe you dont mean that at all. Is it a
message from your Aunt Jane or your mother? Your Aunt Jane does
send messages, God help her!
Its not, Mrs. OReilly: its, if
I may presume to say so, about myself.
I knew it, was the rapid and enthusiastic
reply. Shes a fine cook, Mr. OGrady, and a
head of hair that reaches down to her waist, and won prizes
at school for composition. Ill call himself—hell
be delighted. Hes in the next room making faces at a map.
Maps are a terrible occupation, Mr. OGrady, they spoil
his eyesight and make him curse——
She ambled to the door and called urgently—
OReilly, heres young Mr. OGrady
wants to see you.
Her husband entered with a pen in his mouth and looked
very severely at his visitor—
What brought you round, young man? said he.
The youth became very nervous. He stood up stammering—
Its a delicate subject, sir, said he,
and I thought it would only be right to come to you first.
Here the lady broke in rapturously—
Isnt it splendid, OReilly! You and me
sitting here growing old and contented, and this young gentleman
talking to us the way he is. Doesnt it make you think
of the song ‘John Anderson, my Jo, John?
Her husband turned a bewildered but savage eye on his
It does not, mam, said he. Well,
he barked at Mr. OGrady, what do you want?
I want to speak about your daughter, sir.
Shes not a delicate subject.
No indeed, said his wife. Never a days
illness in her life except the measles, and theyre wholesome
when youre young, and an appetite worth cooking for, two
eggs every morning and more if she got it.
Her husband turned on her with hands of frenzy—
Oh——! said he, and then to their visitor,
What have you to say about my daughter?
The fact is, sir, he stammered, Im
in love with her.
I see, you are the delicate subject, and what then?
And I want to marry her, sir.
Thats not delicacy, thats disease, young
man. Have you spoken to
Julia Elizabeth about this?
No, sir, I wanted first to obtain your and Mrs.
OReillys permission to approach her.
And quite right, too, said the lady warmly.
Isnt it delightful, she continued, to
see a young, bashful youth telling of his love for our dear
child? Doesnt it make you think of Moores beautiful
song, ‘Loves Young Dream, OReilly?
It does not, her husband snapped, I
never heard of the song I tell you, and I never want to.
He turned again to the youth—
If you are in earnest about this, you have my permission
to court Julia Elizabeth as much as shell let you. But
dont blame me if she marries you. People who take risks
must expect accidents. Dont go about lamenting that I
hooked you in, or led you on, or anything like that.—I tell
you, here and now, that she has a rotten temper—
His wife was aghast—
For shame, OReilly, said she.
Her husband continued, looking steadily at her—
A rotten temper, said he, she gives
Never, was Mrs. OReillys wild
She scratches like a cat, said her husband.
Its a falsehood, cried the lady, almost
She is obstinate, sulky, stubborn and cantankerous.
A tissue, said his wife. An absolute
tissue, she repeated with the firmness which masks hysteria.
Her husband continued inexorably—
Shes a gad-about, a pavement-hopper, and when
she has the toothache she curses like a carman. Now, young man,
marry her if you like.
These extraordinary accusations were powerless against
love and etiquette—the young man stood up: his voice rang—
I will, sir, said he steadily, and Ill
be proud to be her husband.
In a very frenzy of enthusiasm, Mrs. OReilly arose—
Good boy, said she. Tell your Aunt Jane
Ill send her another pot of jam. She turned to her
husband, Isnt it delightful, OReilly, doesnt
it make you think of the song, ‘True, True Till Death?
Mr. OReilly replied grimly—
It does not, mam.—Im going back to my
Be a gentleman, OReilly, said his wife
pleadingly. Wont you offer
Mr. OGrady a bottle of stout or a drop of spirits?
The youth intervened hastily, for it is well to hide ones
vices from ones family—
Oh no, mam, not at all, said he, I
never drink intoxicating liquors.
Splendid, said the beaming lady. Youre
better without it. If you knew the happy homes it has ruined,
and the things the clergy say about it youd be astonished.
I only take it myself for the rheumatism, but I never did like
it, did I, OReilly?
Never, mam, was his reply. I only
take it myself because my hearing is bad. Now, listen to me,
young man. You want to marry Julia Elizabeth, and Ill
be glad to see her married to a sensible, sober, industrious
husband.—When I spoke about her a minute ago I was only joking.
I knew it all the time, said his wife. Do
you remember, Mr.
OGrady, I winked at you?
The girl is a good girl, said her husband,
and well brought up.
Yes, said his wife, her hair reaches
down to her waist, and she won a prize for composition—Jessicas
First Prayer, all about a girl with——
Mr. OReilly continued—
She brings me up a cup of tea every morning before
I get up.
She never wore spectacles in her life, said
Mrs. OReilly, and she got a prize for freehand drawing.
She did so, said Mr. OReilly.
His wife continued—
The Schoolboy Baronet it was; all about a young
man that broke his leg down a coal mine and it never got well
again until he met the girl of his heart.
Tell me, said Mr. OReilly, how
are you young people going to live, and where?
His wife interpolated—
Your Aunt Jane told me that you had seventeen shillings
and sixpence a week.—Take my advice and live on the south side—two
rooms easily and most salubrious.
The young man coughed guardedly, he had received a rise
of wages since that information passed, but candour belongs
to childhood, and one must live these frailties down—
Seventeen and six isnt very much, of course,
said he, but I am young and strong——
Its more than I had, said his host,
when I was your age. Hello, theres the post!
Mrs. OReilly went to the door and returned instantly
with a letter in her hand. She presented it to her husband—
Its addressed to you, OReilly,
said she plaintively. Maybe its a bill, but Gods
good and maybe its a cheque.
Her husband nodded at the company and tore his letter
open. He read it, and, at once as it appeared, he went mad,
he raved, he stuttered, now slapping the letter with his forefinger
and, anon, shaking his fist at his wife—
Heres your daughter, mam, he stammered.
Heres your daughter, I say.
Where? cried the amazed lady. What is
it, OReilly? She arose hastily and rolled towards
Mr. OReilly repelled her fiercely—
A good riddance, he shouted.
Tell me, OReilly, I command you, cried
A minx, a jade, snarled the man.
I insist, said she. I must be told.
Im not well, I tell you. My heads going round. Give
me the letter.
Mr. OReilly drew about him a sudden and terrible
Listen, woman, said he, and you too,
young man, and be thankful for your escape.
| DEAR PA, he read, this is to tell
you that I got married to-day to Christie Rorke. We are
going to open a little fried-fish shop near
Street. Hoping this finds you as it leaves me at present,
your loving daughter,
P.S.—Give Christies love to Ma.
Mrs. OReilly sank again to her chair.
Her mouth was partly open. She breathed with difficulty.
Her eyes were fixed on space, and she seemed to be communing
with the guardians of Chaos—
Married! said she in a musing whisper. Christie!
said she. She turned to her husband—What an amazing thing.
Doesnt it make you think, OReilly, of the poem,
‘The World Recedes, it Disappears?
It does not, mam, said her husband savagely.
And what is this young gentleman going to do?
she continued, gazing tearfully at the suitor.
Hes going to go home, replied her husband
fiercely. He ought to be in bed long ago.
A broken heart, said his wife, is a
sad companion to go home with.
Doesnt it make you think of the song——?
It does not, mam, roared her husband.
Im going back to my work, and once again the
door banged and the room shook.
Young Mr. OGrady arose timidly. The world was swimming
about him. Love had deserted him, and etiquette was now his
sole anchor; he shook hands with Mrs. OReilly—
I think I had better be going now, said he.
Must you really go? said that lady with the
smile of a maniac.
Im afraid so, and he moved towards the
Well, said she, give my love to your
mother and your Aunt Jane.
I will, was his reply, and, with
firm politeness, thank you for a very pleasant evening.
Dont mention it, Mr. OGrady. Good-bye.
Mrs. OReilly closed the door and walked back towards
the table smiling madly. She sank into a chair. Her eye fell
on the butter-knife—
I havent had a bit to eat this day,
said she in a loud and threatening voice, and once again she
pulled the loaf towards her.
His mother finished reading the story of the Beautiful
Princess, and it was surely the saddest story he had ever heard.
He could not bear to think of that lovely and delicate lady
all alone in the great, black forest waiting until the giant
came back from killing her seven brothers. He would return with
their seven heads swinging pitifully from his girdle, and, when
he reached the castle gates, he would gnash his teeth through
the keyhole with a noise like the grinding together of great
rocks, and would poke his head through the fanlight of the door,
and say, fee-faw-fum in a voice of such exceeding loudness that
the castle would be shaken to its foundation.
Thinking of this made his throat grow painful with emotion,
and then his heart swelled to the most uncomfortable dimensions,
and he resolved to devote his whole life to the rescue of the
Princess, and, if necessary, die in her defence.
Such was his impatience that he could not wait for anything
more than his dinner, and this he ate so speedily that his father
called him a Perfect-Young-Glutton, and a Disgrace-To-Any-Table.
He bore these insults in a meek and heroic spirit, whereupon
his mother said that he must be ill, and it was only by a violent
and sustained outcry that he escaped being sent to bed.
Immediately after dinner he set out in search of the giants
castle. Now there is scarcely anything in the world more difficult
to find than a giants castle, for it is so large that
one can only see it through the wrong end of a telescope; and,
furthermore, he did not even know this giants name. He
might never have found the place if he had not met a certain
old woman on the common.
She was a very nice old woman. She had three teeth, a
red shawl, and an umbrella with groceries inside it; so he told
her of the difficulty he was in.
She replied that he was in lucks way, and that she
was the only person in the world who could assist him. She said
her name was Really-and-Truly, and that she had a magic head,
and that if he cut her head off it would answer any questions
he asked it. So he stropped his penknife on his boot, and said
he was ready if she was.
The old woman then informed him that in all affairs of
this delicate nature it was customary to take the will for the
deed, and that he might now ask her head anything he wanted
to know—so he asked the head what was the way to the nearest
giant, and the head replied that if he took the first turning
to the left, the second to the right, and then the first to
the left again, and if he then knocked at the fifth door on
the right-hand side, he would see the giant.
He thanked the old woman very much for the use of her
head, and she permitted him to lend her one threepenny-piece,
one pocket-handkerchief, one gun-metal watch, one cap, and one
boot-lace. She said that she never took two of anything, because
that was not fair, and that she wanted these for a very particular,
secret purpose, about which she dare not speak, and, as to which
she trusted he would not press her, and then she took a most
affectionate leave of him and went away.
He followed her directions with the utmost fidelity, and
soon found himself opposite a house which, to the eyes of any
one over seven years of age, looked very like any other house,
but which, to the searching eye of six and three quarters, was
patently and palpably a giants castle.
He tried the door, but it was locked, as, indeed, he had
expected it would be. Then he crept very cautiously, and peeped
through the first floor window. He could see in quite plainly.
There was a polar bear crouching on the floor, and the head
looked at him so directly and vindictively that if he had not
been a hero he would have fled. The unexpected is always terrible,
and when one goes forth to kill a giant it is unkind of Providence
to complicate ones adventure with a gratuitous and wholly
unnecessary polar bear. He was, however, reassured by the sight
of a heavy chair standing on the polar bears stomach,
and in the chair there sat the most beautiful woman in the world.
An ordinary person would not have understood so instantly
that she was the most beautiful woman in the world, because
she looked very stout, and much older than is customary with
princesses—but that was owing to the fact that she was under
an enchantment, and she would become quite young again when
the giant was slain and three drops of his blood had been sprinkled
on her brow.
She was leaning forward in the chair, staring into the
fire, and she was so motionless that it was quite plain she
must be under an enchantment. From the very first instant he
saw the princess he loved her, and his heart swelled with pity
to think that so beautiful a damsel should be subjected to the
tyranny of a giant. These twin passions of pity and love grew
to so furious a strength within him that he could no longer
contain himself. He wept in a loud and very sudden voice which
lifted the damsel out of her enchantment and her chair, and
hurled her across the room as though she had been propelled
by a powerful spring.
He was so overjoyed at seeing her move that he pressed
his face against the glass and wept with great strength, and,
in a few moments, the princess came timidly to the window and
looked out. She looked right over his head at first, and then
she looked down and saw him, and her eyebrows went far up on
her forehead, and her mouth opened; and so he knew that she
was delighted to see him. He nodded to give her courage, and
shouted three times, Open Sesame, Open Sesame, Open Sesame,
and then she opened the window and he climbed in.
The princess tried to push him out again, but she was
not able, and he bade her put all her jewels in the heel of
her boot and fly with him. But she was evidently the victim
of a very powerful enchantment, for she struggled violently,
and said incomprehensible things to him, such as Is it
a fire, or were you chased? and Where is the cook?
But after a little time she listened to the voice of reason,
and recognised that these were legitimate and heroic embraces
from which she could not honourably disentangle herself.
When her first transports of joy were somewhat abated
she assured him that excessive haste had often undone great
schemes, and that one should always look before one leaped,
and that one should never be rescued all at once, but gradually,
in order that one might become accustomed to the severe air
of freedom—and he was overjoyed to find that she was as wise
as she was beautiful.
He told her that he loved her dearly, and she admitted,
after some persuasion, that she was not insensible to the charms
of his heart and intellect, but she confessed that her love
was given to another.
At these tidings his heart withered away within him, and
when the princess admitted she loved the giant his amazement
became profound and complicated. There was a rushing sound in
his ears. The debris of his well-known world was crashing about
him, and he was staring upon a new planet, the name of which
was Incredulity. He looked round with a queer feeling of insecurity.
At any moment the floor might stand up on one of its corners,
or the walls might begin to flap and waggle. But none of these
things happened. Before him sat the princess in an attitude
of deep dejection, and her lily-white hands rested helplessly
on her lap. She told him in a voice that trembled that she would
have married him if he had asked her ten years earlier, and
urged that she could not fly with him now, because, in the first
place, she had six children, and, in the second place, it would
be against the law, and, in the third place, his mother might
object. She admitted that she was unworthy of his love, and
that she should have waited, and she bore his reproaches with
a meekness which finally disarmed him.
He stropped his penknife on his boot, and said that there
was nothing left but to kill the giant, and that she had better
leave the room while he did so, because it would not be a sight
for a weak woman, and he wondered audibly how much hasty-pudding
would fall out of the giant if he stabbed him right to the heart.
The princess begged him not to kill her husband, and assured
him that this giant had not got any hasty-pudding in his heart
at all, and that he was really the nicest giant that ever lived,
and, further, that he had not killed her seven brothers, but
the seven brothers of quite another person entirely, which was
only a reasonable thing to do when one looked at it properly,
and she continued in a strain which proved to him that this
unnatural woman really loved the giant.
It was more in pity than in anger that he recognised the
impossibility of rescuing this person. He saw at last that she
was unworthy of being rescued, and told her so. He said bitterly
that he had grave doubts of her being a princess at all, and
that if she was married to a giant it was no more than she deserved,
and further he had a good mind to rescue the giant from her,
and he would do so in a minute, only that it was against his
principles to rescue giants.—And, saying so, he placed his penknife
between his teeth and climbed out through the window again.
He stood for a moment outside the window with his right
hand extended to the sky and the moonlight blazing on his penknife—a
truly formidable figure, and one which the princess never forgot;
and then he walked slowly away, hiding behind a cold and impassive
demeanour a mind that was tortured and a heart that had plumbed
most of the depths of human suffering.
Aloysius Murphy went a-courting when the woods were green.
There were grapes in the air and birds in the river. A voice
and a song went everywhere, and the voice said, Where
is my beloved? and the song replied, Thy beloved
is awaiting thee, and she stretches her hands abroad and laughs
for thy coming; bind then the feather of a bird to thy heel
and a red rose upon thy hair, and go quickly.
So he took his hat from behind the door and his stick
from beside the bed and went out into the evening.
He had been engaged to Miss Nora MacMahon for two ecstatic
months, and held the opinion that the earth and the heavens
were aware of the intensity of his passion, and applauded the
unique justice of his choice.
By day he sat humbly in a solicitors office, or
scurried through the thousand offices of the Four Courts, but
with night came freedom, and he felt himself to be of the kindred
of the gods and marched in pomp. By what subterranean workings
had he become familiar with the lady? Suffice it that the impossible
is possible to a lover. Everything can be achieved in time.
The man who wishes to put a mountain in his pocket can do so
if his pocket and his wish be of the requisite magnitude.
Now the lady towards whom the raging torrent of his affections
had been directed was the daughter of his employer, and this,
while it notated romance, pointed also to tragedy. Further,
while this fact was well within his knowledge, it was far from
the cognizance of the lady. He would have enlightened her on
the point, but the longer he delayed the revelation, the more
difficult did it become. Perpetually his tongue ached to utter
the truth. When he might be squeezing her hand or plunging his
glance into the depths of her eyes, consciousness would touch
him on the shoulder with a bony hand and say, That is
the bosss daughter you are hugging—a reminder which
was provocative sometimes of an almost unholy delight, when
to sing and dance and go mad was but natural; but at other times
it brought with it moods of woe, abysses of blackness.
In the solitude of the room wherein he lodged he sometimes
indulged in a small drama, wherein, as the hero, he would smile
a slightly sad and quizzical smile, and say gently, Child,
you are Mr. MacMahons daughter, I am but his clerk—here
the smile became more sadly quizzical—how can I ask you
to forsake the luxury of a residence in Clontarf for the uncongenial,
nay, bleak surroundings of a South Circular Road habitation?
And she, ah me! She vowed that a hut and a crust and the love
of her heart ... ! No matter!
So, nightly, Aloysius Murphy took the tram to Clontarf,
and there, wide-coated and sombreroed like a mediaeval conspirator,
he trod delicately beside his cloaked and hooded inamorata,
whispering of the spice of the wind and the great stretches
of the sea.
Now a lover who comes with the shades of night, harbinger
of the moon, and hand in glove with the stars, must be a very
romantic person indeed, and, even if he is not, a lady whose
years are tender can easily supply the necessary gauze to tone
down his too-rigorous projections. But the bird that flies by
night must adduce for our curiosity substantial reason why his
flight has deserted the whiteness of the daytime; else we may
be tempted to believe that his advent in darkness is thus shrouded
for even duskier purposes.—Miss MacMahon had begun to inquire
who Mr. Murphy was, and he had, accordingly, begun to explain
who he was not. This explanation had wrapped his identity in
the most labyrinthine mystery, but Miss MacMahon detected in
the rapid, incomprehensible fluctuations of his story a heart
torn by unmerited misfortune, and whose agony could only be
alleviated by laying her own dear head against its turmoil.
To a young girl a confidant is almost as necessary as
a lover, and when the rendezvous is clandestine, the youth mysterious,
and his hat broad-leafed and flapping, then the necessity for
a confidant becomes imperative.
Miss MacMahon confided the knowledge of all her happiness
to the thrilled ear of her younger sister, who at once hugged
her, and bubbled query, conjecture, and admonishment. ...
Long or short? ... Dark or fair? ... and slender
... with eyes ... dove ... lightning ... hair ... and so gentle
... and then I said ... and then he said ... ! Oh,
sweet! sighed the younger sister, and she stretched her
arms wide and crushed the absent excellences of Mr. Murphy to
her youthful breast.
On returning next day from church, having listened awe-stricken
to a sermon on filial obedience, the little sister bound her
mother to secrecy, told the story, and said she wished she were
dead. Subsequently the father of Clann MacMahon was informed,
and he said Hum and Ha, and rolled a
fierce, hard eye, and many times during the progress of the
narrative he interjected with furious energy these words, Dont
be a fool, Jane, and Mrs. MacMahon responded meekly, Yes,
dear, and Mr. MacMahon then said Hum and Ha
and Gr-r-r-up in a truly terrible and ogreish manner;
and in her distant chamber Miss MacMahon heard the reverberation
of that sonorous grunt, and whispered to her little sister,
Pas in a wax, and the little sister pretended
to be asleep.
The spectacle of an elderly gentleman, side-whiskered,
precise and grey, disguising himself with mufflers and a squash
hat, and stalking with sombre fortitude the erratic wanderings
of a pair of young featherheads, is one which mirth may be pleased
to linger upon. Such a spectacle was now to be observed in the
semi-rural outskirts of Clontarf. Mr. MacMahon tracked his daughter
with considerable stealth, adopting unconsciously the elongated
and nervous stride of a theatrical villain. He saw her meet
a young man wearing a broad-brimmed hat, whose clothing was
mysteriously theatrical, and whose general shape, when it could
be glimpsed, was oddly familiar.
I have seen that fellow somewhere, said he.
The lovers met and kissed, and the glaring father spoke
rapidly but softly to himself for a few moments. He was not
accustomed to walking, and it appeared as if these two intended
to walk for ever, but he kept them in sight, and when the time
came for parting he was close at hand.
The parting was prolonged, and renewed, and rehearsed
again with amendments and additions: he could not have believed
that saying good-bye to a person could be turned into so complicated
and symbolic a ceremony: but, at last, his daughter, with many
a backward look and wave of hand, departed in one direction,
and the gentleman, after similar signals, moved towards the
I know that fellow, whoever he is, said Mr.
Passing a lamp-post, Mr. Aloysius Murphy stayed for a
moment to light his pipe, and Mr. MacMahon stared, he ground
his teeth, he foamed at the mouth, and his already prominent
eyes bulged still further and rounder—
Well, Im—! said he.
He turned and walked homewards slowly, murmuring often
to himself and to the night, All right! wait, though!
Hum! Ha! Gr-r-r-up!
That night he repeatedly entreated his wife not
to be a fool, Jane, and she as repeatedly replied, Yes,
dear. Long after midnight he awoke her by roaring violently
from the very interior depths of a dream, Cheek of the
fellow! Pup! Gr-r-r-up!
At breakfast on the following morning he suggested to
his wife and elder daughter that they should visit his office
later on in the day—
You have never seen it, Nora, said he, and
you ought to have a look at the den where your poor old daddy
spends his time grinding dress material for his family from
the faces of the poor. Ive got some funny clerks, too:
one of them is a curiosity. Here, growing suddenly furious,
he gave an egg a clout.
His daughter giggled—
Oh, Pa, said she, you are not breaking
that egg, you are murdering it.
He looked at her gloomily—
It wasnt the egg I was hitting, said
he. Gr-r-r-up, said he suddenly, and he stabbed
a piece of butter, squashed it to death on a slice of bread,
and tore it to pieces with his teeth.
The young lady looked at him with some amazement, but
she said nothing, for she believed, as most ladies do, that
men are a little mad sometimes, and are foolish always.
Her father intercepted that glance, and instantly snarled—
Can you cook, young woman? said he.
Of course, father, replied the perplexed maiden.
He laid aside his spoon and gave her his full attention.
Can you cook potatoes? said he. Can
you mash ‘em, eh? Can you mash ‘em? What! You can. They call
them Murphies in this country, girl. Can you mash Murphys, eh?
I can. Theres a Murphy I know, and, although its
been mashed already, by the Lord Harry, Ill mash it again.
Did you ever know that potatoes had eyes, miss? Did you ever
notice it when you were cooking them? Did you ever look into
the eyes of a Murphy, eh? When you mashed it, what? Dont
answer me, girl.
I dont know what you are talking about, Pa,
said the young lady.
Dont you, now? grinned the furious gentleman,
and his bulging eyes looked like little round balls of glass.
Who said you did, miss? Gr-r-r-up, said he, and
the poor girl jumped as though she had been prodded with a pin.
Mr. Aloysius Murphys activities began at ten oclock
in the morning by opening the office letters with an ivory instrument
and handing them to his employer; then, as each letter was read,
he entered its receipt and date in a book kept for that purpose.
When Mr. MacMahon came in on the morning following the
occurrences I have detailed he neglected, for the first time
in many years, to respond to his clerks respectfully-cordial
salutation. To the discreet Good-morning, sir, he
vouchsafed no reply. Mr. Murphy was a trifle indignant and a
good deal perturbed, for to an unquiet conscience a word or
the lack of it is a goad. Once or twice, looking up from his
book, he discovered his employers hard eyes fixed upon
him with a regard too particular to be pleasant.
An employer seldom does more than glance at his clerk,
just the sideward glint of a look which remarks his presence
without admitting his necessity, and in return the clerk slants
a hurried eye on his employer, notes swiftly if his aspect be
sulky or benign, and stays his vision at that. But, now, Mr.
Murphy, with sudden trepidation, with a frightful sinking in
the pit of his stomach, became aware that his employer was looking
at him stealthily; and, little by little, he took to sneaking
glances at his employer. After a few moments neither seemed
to be able to keep his eyes from straying—they created opportunities
in connection with the letters; the one looking intent, wide-eyed,
and with a cold, frigid, rigid, hard stare, and the other scurrying
and furtive, in-and-away, hit-and-miss-and-try-again, wink,
blink, and twitter.
Mr. MacMahon spoke—
Have you anything in Court to-day?
Yes, sir, an ex parte application, Donald and Cluggs.
Let ONeill attend to it. I shall want you
to draft a deed for some ladies who will call here at noon.
You can come down at ten minutes after twelve.
Yes, sir, said Murphy.
He grabbed his share of the letters and got to the door
bathed in perspiration and forebodings. He closed the door softly
behind him, and stood for a few seconds staring at the handle.
Blow you! said he viciously to nothing in particular,
and he went slowly upstairs.
He cant know, said he on the first landing.
On the second floor he thought, She couldnt have
told for she didnt know herself. He reached his
desk. I wish I had a half of whisky, said the young
man to himself.
Before, however, twelve oclock arrived he had journeyed
on the hopeful pinions of youth from the dogmatic could
not be to the equally immovable is not, and
his mind resumed its interrupted equilibrium.
At twelve oclock Mrs. and Miss MacMahon arrived,
and were at once shown into the private office. At ten minutes
past, Mr. Murphys respectful tap was heard. Dont,
Eddie, said Mrs. MacMahon in a queer, flurried voice.
Come in, said her husband. Nora was examining some
judicial cartoons pinned over the mantelpiece. Mr. Murphy opened
the door a few inches, slid through the aperture, and was at
once caught and held by his employers eye, which, like
a hand, guided him to the table with his notebook. Under the
almost physical pressure of that authoritative glare he did
not dare to look who was in the room, but the rim of his eye
saw the movement of a skirt like the far-away, shadowy canter
of a ghosts robe. He fixed his attention on his note-book.
Mr. MacMahon began to dictate a Deed of Conveyance from
a precedent deed in his hand. After dictating for some few minutes—
Murphy, said he, and at the word the young
lady studying the cartoons stiffened, Ive rather
lost the thread of that clause; please read what you have down.
Murphy began to read, and, at the first word, the girl
made a tiny, shrill, mouses noise, and then stood stock-still,
tightened up and frightened, with her two wild eyes trying to
peep around her ears.
Mr. Murphy heard the noise and faltered—he knew instinctively.
Something told him with the bellowing assurance of a cannon
who was there. He must look. He forced his slack face past the
granite image that was his employer, saw a serge-clad figure
that he knew, one ear and the curve of a cheek. Then a cascade
broke inside his head. It buzzed and chattered and crashed,
with now and again the blank brutality of thunder bashing through
the noise. The serge-clad figure swelled suddenly to a tremendous
magnitude, and then it receded just as swiftly, and the vast
earth spun minutely on a pins point ten million miles
away, and she was behind it, her eyes piercing with scorn ...
. Through the furious winds that whirled about his brain he
heard a whisper, thin and cold, and insistent as a razors
edge, Go on, Murphy; go on, Murphy. He strove to
fix his attention on his shorthand notes—To fight it down, to
stand the shock like a man, and then crawl into a hole somewhere
and die; but his mind would not grip, nor his eyes focus. The
only words which his empty brain could pump up were these, irrelevant
and idiotic, ‘A frog he would a-wooing go, heigho,
said Rowley; and they must not be said. It is a
bit difficult, perhaps, said the whispering voice that
crept through the tumult of winds and waters in his head. Never
mind, take down the rest of it, and the far-away whisper
began to say things all about nothing, making queer little noises
and pauses, running for a moment into a ripple of sound, and
eddying and dying away and coming back again—buz-z-z! His notebook
lying on the table was as small as a postage stamp, while the
pencil in his hand was as big as an elephants leg. How
can a man write on a microscopic blur with the stump of a fir
tree? He poked and prodded, and Mr. MacMahon watched for a few
moments his clerk poking his note-book with the wrong end of
a pencil. He silently pulled his daughter forward and made her
look. After a little—
That will do, Murphy, said he, and Mr. Murphy,
before he got out, made two severe attempts to walk through
For half an hour he sat at his desk in a trance, with
his eyes fixed upon an ink-bottle. At last, nodding his head
Ill bet you a shilling, said he to the
ink-bottle, that I get the sack to-night.
And the ink-bottle lost the wager.
He was one who would have passed
by the Sphinx without seeing it. He did not believe in the necessity
for sphinxes, or in their reality, for that matter—they did
not exist for him. Indeed, he was one to whom the Sphinx would
not have been visible. He might have eyed it and noted a certain
bulk of grotesque stone, but nothing more significant.
He was sex-blind, and, so, peculiarly limited by the fact
that he could not appreciate women. If he had been pressed for
a theory or metaphysic of womanhood he would have been unable
to formulate any. Their presence he admitted, perforce: their
utility was quite apparent to him on the surface, but, subterraneously,
he doubted both their existence and their utility. He might
have said perplexedly—Why cannot they do whatever they have
to do without being always in the way? He might have said—Hang
it, they are everywhere and what good are they doing? They bothered
him, they destroyed his ease when he was near them, and they
spoke a language which he did not understand and did not want
to understand. But as his limitations did not press on him neither
did they trouble him. He was not sexually deficient, and he
did not dislike women; he simply ignored them, and was only
really at home with men. All the crudities which we enumerate
as masculine delighted him—simple things, for, in the gender
of abstract ideas, vice is feminine, brutality is masculine,
the female being older, vastly older than the male, much more
competent in every way, stronger, even in her physique, than
he, and, having little baggage of mental or ethical preoccupations
to delay her progress, she is still the guardian of evolution,
requiring little more from man than to be stroked and petted
for a while.
He could be brutal at times. He liked to get drunk at
seasonable periods. He would cheerfully break a head or a window,
and would bandage the one damage or pay for the other with equal
skill and pleasure. He liked to tramp rugged miles swinging
his arms and whistling as he went, and he could sit for hours
by the side of a ditch thinking thoughts without words—an easy
and a pleasant way of thinking, and one which may lead to something
in the long run.
Even his mother was an abstraction to him. He was kind
to her so far as doing things went, but he looked over her,
or round her, and marched away and forgot her.
Sex-blindness carries with it many other darknesses. We
do not know what masculine thing is projected by the feminine
consciousness, and civilisation, even life itself, must stand
at a halt until that has been discovered or created, but art
is the female projected by the male: science is the male projected
by the male—as yet a poor thing, and to remain so until it has
become art; that is, has become fertilised and so more psychological
than mechanical. The small part of science which came to his
notice (inventions, machinery, etc.) was easily and delightedly
comprehended by him. He could do intricate things with a knife
and a piece of string, or a hammer and a saw: but a picture,
a poem, a statue, a piece of music—these left him as uninterested
as they found him: more so, in truth, for they left him bored
His mother came to dislike him, and there were many causes
and many justifications for her dislike. She was an orderly,
busy, competent woman, the counterpart of endless millions of
her sex, who liked to understand what she saw or felt, and who
had no happiness in reading riddles. To her he was at times
an enigma, and at times again a simpleton. In both aspects he
displeased and embarrassed her. One has ones sense of
property, and in him she could not put her finger on anything
that was hers. We demand continuity, logic in other words, but
between her son and herself there was a gulf fixed, spanned
by no bridge whatever; there was complete isolation; no boat
plied between them at all. All the kindly human things which
she loved were unintelligible to him, and his coarse pleasures
or blunt evasions distressed and bewildered her. When she spoke
to him he gaped or yawned; and yet she did not speak on weighty
matters, just the necessary small-change of existence—somebodys
cold, somebodys dress, somebodys marriage or death.
When she addressed him on sterner subjects, the ground, the
weather, the crops, he looked at her as if she were a baby,
he listened with stubborn resentment, and strode away a confessed
boor. There was no contact anywhere between them, and he was
a slow exasperation to her.—What can we do with that which is
ours and not ours? either we own a thing or we do not, and,
whichever way it goes, there is some end to it; but certain
enigmas are illegitimate and are so hounded from decent cogitation.
She could do nothing but dismiss him, and she could not
even do that, for there he was at the required periods, always
primed with the wrong reply to any question, the wrong aspiration,
the wrong conjecture; a perpetual trampler on mental corns,
a person for whom one could do nothing but apologise.
They lived on a small farm and almost the entire work
of the place was done by him. His younger brother assisted,
but that assistance could have easily been done without. If
the cattle were sick he cured them almost by instinct. If the
horse was lame or wanted a new shoe he knew precisely what to
do in both events. When the time came for ploughing he gripped
the handles and drove a furrow which was as straight and as
economical as any furrow in the world. He could dig all day
long and be happy; he gathered in the harvest as another would
gather in a bride; and, in the intervals between these occupations,
he fled to the nearest publichouse and wallowed among his kind.
He did not fly away to drink; he fled to be among men.—Then
he awakened. His tongue worked with the best of them, and adequately
too. He could speak weightily on many things—boxing, wrestling,
hunting, fishing, the seasons, the weather, and the chances
of this and the other mans crops. He had deep knowledge
about brands of tobacco and the peculiar virtues of many different
liquors. He knew birds and beetles and worms; how a weazel would
behave in extraordinary circumstances; how to train every breed
of horse and dog. He recited goats from the cradle to the grave,
could tell the name of any tree from its leaf; knew how a bull
could be coerced, a cow cut up, and what plasters were good
for a broken head. Sometimes, and often enough, the talk would
chance on women, and then he laughed as heartily as any one
else, but he was always relieved when the conversation trailed
to more interesting things.
His mother died and left the farm to the younger instead
of the elder son; an unusual thing to do, but she did detest
him. She knew her younger son very well. He was foreign to her
in nothing. His temper ran parallel with her own, his tastes
were hers, his ideas had been largely derived from her, she
could track them at any time and make or demolish him. He would
go to a dance or a picnic and be as exhilarated as she was,
and would discuss the matter afterwards. He could speak with
some cogency on the shape of this and that female person, the
hat of such an one, the disagreeableness of tea at this house
and the goodness of it at the other. He could even listen to
one speaking without going to sleep at the fourth word. In all
he was a decent, quiet lad who would become a father the exact
replica of his own, and whose daughters would resemble his mother
as closely as two peas resemble their green ancestors.—So she
left him the farm.
Of course, there was no attempt to turn the elder brother
out. Indeed, for some years the two men worked quietly together
and prospered and were contented; then, as was inevitable, the
younger brother got married, and the elder had to look out for
a new place to live in, and to work in—things had become difficult.
It is very easy to say that in such and such circumstances
a man should do this and that well-pondered thing, but the courts
of logic have as yet the most circumscribed jurisdiction. Just
as statistics can prove anything and be quite wrong, so reason
can sit in its padded chair issuing pronouncements which are
seldom within measurable distance of any reality. Everything
is true only in relation to its centre of thought. Some people
think with their heads—their subsequent actions are as logical
and unpleasant as are those of the other sort who think only
with their blood, and this latter has its irrefutable logic
also. He thought in this subterranean fashion, and if he had
thought in the other the issue would not have been any different.
Still, it was not an easy problem for him, or for any
person lacking initiative—a sexual characteristic. He might
have emigrated, but his roots were deeply struck in his own
place, so the idea never occurred to him; furthermore, our thoughts
are often no deeper than our pockets, and one wants money to
move anywhere. For any other life than that of farming he had
no training and small desire. He had no money and he was a farmers
son. Without money he could not get a farm; being a farmers
son he could not sink to the degradation of a day labourer;
logically he could sink, actually he could not without endangering
his own centres and verities—so he also got married.
He married a farm of about ten acres, and the sun began
to shine on him once more; but only for a few days. Suddenly
the sun went away from the heavens; the moon disappeared from
the silent night; the silent night itself fled afar, leaving
in its stead a noisy, dirty blackness through which one slept
or yawned as one could. There was the farm, of course, one could
go there and work; but the freshness went out of the very ground;
the crops lost their sweetness and candour; the horses and cows
disowned him; the goats ceased to be his friends—It was all
up with him. He did not whistle any longer. He did not swing
his shoulders as he walked, and, although he continued to smoke,
he did not look for a particular green bank whereon he could
sit quietly flooded with those slow thoughts that had no words.
For he discovered that he had not married a farm at all.
He had married a woman—a thin-jawed, elderly slattern, whose
sole beauty was her farm. How her jaws worked! The processions
and congregations of words that fell and dribbled and slid out
of them! Those jaws were never quiet, and in spite of all he
did not say anything. There was not anything to say, but much
to do from which he shivered away in terror. He looked at her
sometimes through the muscles of his arms, through his big,
strong hands, through fogs and fumes and singular, quiet tumults
that raged within him. She lessoned him on the things he knew
so well, and she was always wrong. She lectured him on those
things which she did know, but the unending disquisition, the
perpetual repetition, the foolish, empty emphasis, the dragging
weightiness of her tongue made him repudiate her knowledge and
hate it as much as he did her.
Sometimes, looking at her, he would rub his eyes and yawn
with fatigue and wonder—there she was! A something enwrapped
about with petticoats. Veritably alive. Active as an insect!
Palpable to the touch! And what was she doing to him? Why did
she do it? Why didnt she go away? Why didnt she
die? What sense was there in the making of such a creature that
clothed itself like a bolster, without any freedom or entertainment
Her eyes were fixed on him and they always seemed to be
angry; and her tongue was uttering rubbish about horses, rubbish
about cows, rubbish about hay and oats. Nor was this the sum
of his weariness. It was not alone that he was married; he was
multitudinously, egregiously married. He had married a whole
family, and what a family—
Her mother lived with her, her eldest sister lived with
her, her youngest sister lived with her—and these were all swathed
about with petticoats and shawls. They had no movement. Their
feet were like those of no creature he had ever observed. One
could hear the flip-flap of their slippers all over the place,
and at all hours. They were down-at-heel, draggle-tailed, and
futile. There was no workmanship about them. They were as unfinished,
as unsightly as a puddle on a road. They insulted his eyesight,
his hearing, and his energy. They had lank hair that slapped
about them like wet seaweed, and they were all talking, talking,
The mother was of an incredible age. She was senile with
age. Her cracked cackle never ceased for an instant. She talked
to the dog and the cat; she talked to the walls of the room;
she spoke out through the window to the weather; she shut her
eyes in a corner and harangued the circumambient darkness. The
eldest sister was as silent as a deep ditch and as ugly. She
slid here and there with her head on one side like an inquisitive
hen watching one curiously, and was always doing nothing with
an air of futile employment. The youngest was a semi-lunatic
who prattled and prattled without ceasing, and was always catching
ones sleeve, and laughing at ones face.—And everywhere
those flopping, wriggling petticoats were appearing and disappearing.
One saw slack hair whisking by the corner of ones eye.
Mysteriously, urgently, they were coming and going and coming
again, and never, never being silent.
More and more he went running to the public-house. But
it was no longer to be among men, it was to get drunk. One might
imagine him sitting there thinking those slow thoughts without
words. One might predict that the day would come when he would
realise very suddenly, very clearly all that he had been thinking
about, and, when this urgent, terrible thought had been translated
into its own terms of action, he would be quietly hanged by
the neck until he was as dead as he had been before he was alive.
At the end of the bough, at the top
of the tree
(As fragrant, as high, and as lovely as thou)
One sweet apple reddens which all men may see,
At the end of the bough.
Swinging full to the view, tho
the gatherers now
Pass, and evade, and oerlook busily:
Overlook! nay, but pluck it! they cannot tell how.
For it swings out of reach as a cloud,
and as free
As a star, or thy beauty, which seems too, I vow,
Remote as the sweet rosy apple—ah me!
At the end of the bough.
One awakened suddenly in those days. Sleep was not followed
by the haze which trails behind more mature slumbers. Ones
eyes opened wide and bright, and brains and legs became instantly
active. If by a chance the boy lying next to you was still asleep,
it was the thing to hit him with a pillow. Even among boys,
however, there are certain morose creatures who are ill-tempered
in the morning, and these, on being struck with a pillow, become
malignantly active, and desire to fight with fists instead of
Bull was such a boy. He was densely packed with pugnacity.
He lived for ever on the extreme slope of a fight, down which
he slid at a word, a nod, a wink, into strenuous and bloodthirsty
warfare. He was never seen without a black eye, a bruised lip,
or something wrong with his ear. He had the most miscellaneous
collection of hurts that one could imagine, and he was always
prepared to exhibit his latest injury in exchange for a piece
of toffee. If this method of barter was not relished, he would
hit the proprietor of the toffee and confiscate the goods to
his own use.
His knowledge of who had sweets was uncanny. He had an
extra sense in that direction, which was a trouble to all smaller
boys. No matter how cunningly one concealed a sticky treasure,
just when one was secretly enjoying it he came leaping out of
space with the most offensive friendliness crinkling all over
his face, and his desire to participate in the confection was
advanced without any preliminary courtesies—
What have you got? Show! Give us a bit. Cant
you give a fellow a bit?
When the bit was tendered he snatched it, swallowed it,
Do you call that a bit? Give us a real bit.
There are plenty of boys who will defend their toffee
with their lives. Such boys he liked to meet, for their refusal
to surrender a part gave him an opportunity to fight and a reason
for confiscating the whole of the ravished sweetmeat. One often
had to devour ones sweets at a full gallop. It was no
uncommon thing to see a small boy scudding furiously around
a field with Bull pounding behind, intent as a bloodhound, and
as horribly vocal. A close examination would discover that the
small boys jaws were moving with even greater rapidity
than his legs. If he managed to get his stuff devoured before
he was caught it was all right, but he got hammered anyhow when
he was caught. However, Bulls approach was usually managed
with great skill and strategy, and before the small boy was
aware Bull was squatting beside him using blandishments both
moral and minatory.
He was a very gifted boy. He had no bent for learning
lessons but he had a great gift for collecting and turning to
his own use the property of other people. Sometimes three or
four boys swore a Solemn League and Covenant against him. His
perplexity then was extreme. He saw toffee being devoured and
none of it coming his way. Possibly his method of thinking was
in pictures, and he could visualise with painful clarity the
alien gullets down which toffee was traveling, and, simultaneously,
he could see the woeful emptiness of his own red lane. He must
have felt that all was not right with a Providence which could
allow such happenings. A world wherein there was toffee for
others and none for him was certainly a world out of joint.
His idea of Utopia would be a place where there were lots of
things for him to eat and a circle of hungry boys who watched
his deliberate jaws with envy and humility. Furthermore, the
idea that smaller boys could have, not the courage, but the
heart to congregate against him, must have come to him with
a shock. He was appalled by a sense of the sinfulness of human
nature, and dismayed by the odds against which virtue has to
The others, strong in numbers, followed him on such occasions
chewing their tuck with grave deliberation, descanting minutely
and loudly on the taste of each bit, the splendid length of
time it took to dissolve, and the blessedly large quantity which
yet remained to be eaten. He threatened them, but his threats
were received with yawns. He wheedled (a thing he could do consummately
well) but they were not to be blandished. He mapped out on his
own person the particular and painful places where later on
he would hit them unless he was bound over to the peace by toffee.
And they sucked their sweetstuff and made diagrams on each other
of the places where they could hit Bull if they had a mind to,
and told each other and him that he was not worth hitting and,
would probably die if he were hit. But they were careful not
dissolve partnership until the sweets were eaten and beyond
even the wildest hopes of salvage. Then, in the later-on that
had been predicted, Bull captured them in detail, and, as he
had promised, he lammed the stuffing out of them.
He had all the grave wisdom of the stupid, and the extraordinary
energy and persistence which perpetuates them. He never could
learn a lesson, but he could, and did, pinch the boy next to
him into adept prompting, and would intimidate any one into
doing his sums. Indeed, the man of whom he was the promise had
no need for ordinary learning. The lighter accomplishments of
life had no appeal, nor would the deeper lessons have any meaning
for him. He is simply a big, physical appetite, untrammelled
by anything like introspection or conscience, and working in
perfect innocence for the fulfilment of its simple wants. For
at base his species are surely the most simple of human creatures.
In spite of their complex physical structure they are one-celled
organisms driven through life with only a passionate hunger
as their motive power, and with no complexities of thought or
emotion to hamper their loud progressions. None but those of
their own kind can suffer from their ravages, and, even so,
they fly the contact of each other with horror.
Doubtless by this time Bull is a prosperous and wealthy
citizen somewhere, the proprietor of a curved waistcoat and
a gold watch. Possessions other than these he would regard with
the amiable tolerance of a philosopher regarding a child with
toys. So strongly acquisitive a nature must win the particular
little battles which it is fitted to wage. When a conscienceless
mind is buttressed by a pugnacious temperament then houses and
land, and cattle and maidservants, and such-like, the small
change of existence, are easily gotten.
The sunlight of youth has a special quality which will
never again be known until we rediscover it in Paradise. What
a time it was! How the sun shone, and how often it shone! I
remember playing about in a parched and ragged field with a
leaf from a copy-book stuck under my cap to aid its quarter-inch
peak in keeping off the glare of that tremendous sunshine.
Tip-and-Tig, Horneys and Robbers, Relievo we played, and
another game, the name of which did not then seem at all strange,
but which now wears an amazing appearance—it was, Twenty-four
Yards on the Billy-Goats Tail. I wonder now what was that
Billy-Goat, and was he able to wag the triumphant tail of which
twenty-four yards was probably no more than an inconsiderable
moiety. There were other games: Ball-in-the-Decker, Cap-on-the-Back,
and Towns or Rounders. These were all summer games.
With the lightest effort of imagination I can see myself
and other tireless atoms scooting across reaches of sunlight.
I can hear the continuous howl which accompanied our play, and
can see that ragged, parched field spreading, save for the cluster
of boys, wide and silent to the further, greener fields, where
the cows were lying down in great coloured lumps, and one antic
deer, a pet, would make such astonishing journeys, jumping the
entire circuit of the field on four thin and absolutely rigid
legs; for when it made these peculiar excursions it never seemed
to use its legs—these were held quite rigidly, and the deer
bounded by some powerful, spring-like action, its brown coat
flashing in the sunlight, and its movement a rhythmic glory
which the boys watched with ecstasy and laughter.
An old ass was native to that field also. He had been
a bright, kind-hearted donkey at one time: a donkey whose nose
might be tickled, and who would allow one to climb upon his
back. But the presence of boys grew disturbing as he grew old,
and the practical jokes of which his youth took no heed induced
a kind of insanity in his latter age. He took to kicking the
cows as they browsed peacefully, and, later, he developed a
horrid appetite for fowl, and would stalk and kill and eat hens
whenever possible. Later still he directed this unhealthy appetite
towards small boys, and after he had eaten part of one lads
shoulder and the calf from another boys leg he disappeared—whether
he was sold to some innocent person, or had been slaughtered
mysteriously, we did not know. We professed to believe that
he had died of the horrible taste of the boys he had bitten,
and, afterwards, whenever we played cannibals, we refused, greatly
to their chagrin, to kill and eat these two boys, on the ground
that their flesh was poisonous; but the others we slaughtered
and fed on with undiminished gusto.
There were only two trees in the field—great, gnarled
monsters casting a deep shade. In that shade the grass grew
long and green and juicy. After a game the boys would fling
themselves down in the shadow of the trees to chew the sweet
grass, and play knifey, and talk.—Such talk!—endless
and careless, and loud as the converse of young bulls. What
did we talk about? Delightful and inconsequent shoutings—
That is a hawk up there, hes going to soar.
How does he keep so steady without moving his wings? Watch now!
down he drops like a stone ... . If you give your rabbit too
many cabbage leaves hell die of the gripes ... . Did you
ever play jack-stones? a fellow showed me how, look! ... When
we were at the sea yesterday Jimmy Nelson wouldnt go out
from the shore. He was afraid of his life—he wouldnt even
duck down. I swam nearly out of sight, didnt I, Sam? So
did Sam ... . You could climb right up to the top of that tree
if you tried. No you couldnt.—Yes I could, its forked
all the way up ... . The new master wears specs—Old Four-Eyes!
and he grins at a fellow. I dont think hes much ...
. How do midges get born? ... My brother has one with four blades
and a thing for poking stones out of a horses hoof ...
. A horse-hair wont break the cane at all: its all
bosh: rosin is the only thing ... .
There was a little stream which twisted a six-foot path
through the field, the sunshine dashing off its waters in brilliant
flashes. The top of the water swarmed with flying insects and
strange, small spider-things skimmed over its surface with amazing
swiftness. We believed there were otters in that stream—they
came out at nightfall and, unless you had the good fortune to
be rescued by a Newfoundland dog, they would hold you down under
water until you were drowned. We also held there were leeches
in the stream—they would grip you by the hundred thousand and
suck you to death in five minutes, and they clung so tightly
that one could not prise their mouths open with a poker. We
hoped there were whales in it, but not one of us desired a shark
because it is the Sailors Enemy.
An iron railing ran by part of the field. Every hole and
joint of it was crammed with earwigs, and these could be poked
out of the crevices with a straw. When an amazing number of
them had been poked out there was always another one left. The
very last earwig that could be discovered was the King. He was
able and willing to bite ten times as badly as any of the others,
and he was awfully vicious when his nest was broken into. Furthermore,
he had the ability to put a curse on you before he died, and
he always did this because he was so vicious. If a King Earwig
had time to curse you before he was killed terrible things might
happen. His favourite curse was to translate himself into the
next piece of bread you would eat, and then you would see one-half
of him waggling in a hole in the bread: the other half you had
already eaten.—For this reason the King Earwig was always allowed
to go free until he was not looking, then he was killed with
I remember how the slow evening shadows drew over the
quiet fields. The sunlight slowly faded to a mist of gold, into
which the great trees thrust timorous, shy fingers, and these
gradually widened, until, at last, the whole horizon bowed into
Across the field there could be heard the voice of the
river, a furtive, desolate hoarseness in the dusk. The cows
in the far fields had long ago wandered home to be milked, scarcely
a bird moved in the high silences, the gnats had hidden themselves
away in the deep, rugged bark of the trees, and, through the
dimness, the heavy beetles were hurling like stones, and dropping
and rising again in a laborious flight.
He could remember that he had wept to be allowed go to
school. Even more vivid was his recollection of the persuasive
and persistent tears which he had shed to be allowed to stay
Most of the joys of school were exhausted after he had
submitted to one hour of dreary discipline.—To be compelled
to sit still when every inch of ones being clamoured to
move about; to have to stand up and stare at a blackboard upon
which meaningless white scrawls were perpetually being drawn,
and as perpetually being wiped out to a masters meaningless,
monotonous verbal accompaniment; to have to join in a chant
which began with a, b, c, and droned steadily through
a complexity of sounds to a ridiculously inadequate z—such
things became desperately boring. One was not even let go to
sleep, and if one wept from sheer ennui, then one was clouted.
School, he shortly decided, was not worth anybodys while,
but he also discovered that a torment had commenced which was
not by any artifice to be evaded.
Along the road to school there ran a succession of meadows—the
path was really a footway through fields—and how not to stray
into these meadows was a problem demanding the entire of ones
attention. Sometimes a rabbit bolted almost from under ones
feet—it flapped away through the grass, and bobbed up and down
in a great hurry. Then his heart filled with envy. He said to
That rabbit is not going to school: if it was it
wouldnt run so quickly.
It was paltry comfort to hurl a wad of grass after it.
Through most of the journey there was an immense, lazy
bee with a bass voice, and he droned defiance three feet away
from ones cap which almost jolted to be put over him.
He seemed to understand that at such an hour he was not in any
danger, and so he would drop to the grass, roll on his back,
and cock up his legs in ecstasy.
Bees, said he to himself in amazement and
despair, do not go to school.
Each bush and tree seemed, for the moment, to be inhabited
by a bird whose song was unfamiliar and the markings on whom
he could not remember to have seen before; and he had no time
to stay and note them. He dragged beyond these objects reluctantly,
pondering on the unreasonable savagery of parents who sent one
to school when the sun was shining.
But the greatest obstacle to getting to school was the
river which danced briskly through the fields. The footpath
went for a stretch along this stream, and, during that piece
of the journey, haste was not possible. There are so many things
in a river to look at. The movement of the water in itself exercises
fascinations over a boy. There are always bubbles, based strongly
in froth, sailing gallantly along.—One speculates how long a
bubble will swim before it hits a rock, or is washed into nothing
by an eddy, or is becalmed in a sheltered corner to ride at
jaunty anchor with a navy of similar delicate tonnage.
Further, if one finds a twig on the path, or a leaf, there
is nothing more natural than to throw these into the river and
see how fast or how erratically they sail. Pebbles also clamour
to be cast into the stream. Perhaps a dragon-fly whirls above
the surface of the water to hold one late from school. The grasses
and rushes by the marge may stir as a grey rat slips out to
take to the water and swim low down and very fast on some strange
and important journey. The inspection of such an event cannot
be hurried. One must, if it is possible, discover where he swims
to, and if his hole is found it has to be blocked up with stones,
even though the persistent bell is clanging down over the fields.
Perhaps a big frog will push out from the grass and go
in fat leaps down to the water—plop! and away he swims with
his sarcastic nose up and his legs going like fury. The strange,
very-little-boy motions of a frog in water is a thing to ponder
over. There are small frogs also, every bit as interesting,
thin-legged, round-bellied anatomies who try to jump two ways
at once when they are observed, and are caught so easily that
it is scarcely worth ones trouble to chase them at all.
Just where the path turned there was an arch under which
the river flowed.—It was covered in with an iron grating. Surely
it was a place of mystery. Through the bars the dark, swirling
waters were dimly visible—there were things in there. Black
lumps rose out of the water, and, for a little distance, the
slimy, shimmering, cold-looking walls could be seen. Beyond
there was a deeper gloom, and, beyond that again, a blank, mysterious
darkness. Through the grating the voice of the stream came back
with a strange note. On the outside, under the sun, it was a
tinkle and a rush, a dance indeed, but within it was a low snarl
that deepened to a grim whisper. There was an edge of malice
to the sound: something dark and very terrible brooded on the
face of those hidden waters. It was the home of surmise.—What
might there not be there? There might be gully-holes where the
waters whirled in wide circles, and then flew smoothly down,
and down, and down. If one could have got in there to see! To
crawl along by the slippery edge in the darkness and solitude!
It was very hard to get away from this place.
A little farther on two goats were tethered. As one passed
they would cease to pluck the grass and begin to dance slowly,
such dainty, antic steps, with their heads held down and their
pale eyes looking upwards with a joke in them. They did not
really want to fight; they wanted to play but were too shy to
And here the schoolhouse was in sight. The bell had stopped:
it was now time to run.
He gripped the mouth of his satchel with one hand to prevent
the lesson books from jumping out as he ran, he gripped his
pocket with the other hand to prevent his lunch from being jolted
into the road.
Another few yards and he was at the gate—some one was
glaring out through a window. It was a big face rimmed with
spectacles and whiskers—a master. He knew that when yonder severe
eye had lifted from him it had dropped to look at a watch, and
he also knew exactly what the owner of the severe eye would
say to him as he sidled in.
If the Moon had a hand
I wonder would she
Stretch it down unto me?
If she did, I would go
To her glacier land,
To her ice-covered strand.
I would run, I would fly,
Were the cold ever so,
And be warm in the snow.
O Moon of all Light,
Sailing far, sailing high
In the infinite sky.
Do not come down to me,
Lest I shriek in affright,
Lest I die in the night
Of your chill ecstasy.