Mrs. Mooney was a butcher's daughter. She was a woman who was quite able t_eep things to herself: a determined woman. She had married her father'_oreman and opened a butcher's shop near Spring Gardens. But as soon as hi_ather-in-law was dead Mr. Mooney began to go to the devil. He drank,
plundered the till, ran headlong into debt. It was no use making him take th_ledge: he was sure to break out again a few days after. By fighting his wif_n the presence of customers and by buying bad meat he ruined his business.
One night he went for his wife with the cleaver and she had to sleep _eighbour's house.
After that they lived apart. She went to the priest and got a separation fro_im with care of the children. She would give him neither money nor food no_ouse-room; and so he was obliged to enlist himself as a sheriff's man. He wa_ shabby stooped little drunkard with a white face and a white moustache whit_yebrows, pencilled above his little eyes, which were veined and raw; and al_ay long he sat in the bailiff's room, waiting to be put on a job. Mrs.
Mooney, who had taken what remained of her money out of the butcher busines_nd set up a boarding house in Hardwicke Street, was a big imposing woman. He_ouse had a floating population made up of tourists from Liverpool and th_sle of Man and, occasionally, artistes from the music halls. Its residen_opulation was made up of clerks from the city. She governed the hous_unningly and firmly, knew when to give credit, when to be stern and when t_et things pass. All the resident young men spoke of her as The Madam.
Mrs. Mooney's young men paid fifteen shillings a week for board and lodgings
(beer or stout at dinner excluded). They shared in common tastes an_ccupations and for this reason they were very chummy with one another. The_iscussed with one another the chances of favourites and outsiders. Jac_ooney, the Madam's son, who was clerk to a commission agent in Fleet Street,
had the reputation of being a hard case. He was fond of using soldiers'
obscenities: usually he came home in the small hours. When he met his friend_e had always a good one to tell them and he was always sure to be on to _ood thing-that is to say, a likely horse or a likely artiste. He was als_andy with the mits and sang comic songs. On Sunday nights there would ofte_e a reunion in Mrs. Mooney's front drawing-room. The music-hall artiste_ould oblige; and Sheridan played waltzes and polkas and vampe_ccompaniments. Polly Mooney, the Madam's daughter, would also sing. She sang:
I'm a … naughty girl. You needn't sham: You know I am.
Polly was a slim girl of nineteen; she had light soft hair and a small ful_outh. Her eyes, which were grey with a shade of green through them, had _abit of glancing upwards when she spoke with anyone, which made her look lik_ little perverse madonna. Mrs. Mooney had first sent her daughter to be _ypist in a corn-factor's office but, as a disreputable sheriff's man used t_ome every other day to the office, asking to be allowed to say a word to hi_aughter, she had taken her daughter home again and set her to do housework.
As Polly was very lively the intention was to give her the run of the youn_en. Besides young men like to feel that there is a young woman not very fa_way. Polly, of course, flirted with the young men but Mrs. Mooney, who was _hrewd judge, knew that the young men were only passing the time away: none o_hem meant business. Things went on so for a long time and Mrs. Mooney bega_o think of sending Polly back to typewriting when she noticed that somethin_as going on between Polly and one of the young men. She watched the pair an_ept her own counsel.
Polly knew that she was being watched, but still her mother's persisten_ilence could not be misunderstood. There had been no open complicity betwee_other and daughter, no open understanding but, though people in the hous_egan to talk of the affair, still Mrs. Mooney did not intervene. Polly bega_o grow a little strange in her manner and the young man was evidentl_erturbed. At last, when she judged it to be the right moment, Mrs. Moone_ntervened. She dealt with moral problems as a cleaver deals with meat: and i_his case she had made up her mind.
It was a bright Sunday morning of early summer, promising heat, but with _resh breeze blowing. All the windows of the boarding house were open and th_ace curtains ballooned gently towards the street beneath the raised sashes.
The belfry of George's Church sent out constant peals and worshippers, singl_r in groups, traversed the little circus before the church, revealing thei_urpose by their self-contained demeanour no less than by the little volume_n their gloved hands. Breakfast was over in the boarding house and the tabl_f the breakfast-room was covered with plates on which lay yellow streaks o_ggs with morsels of bacon-fat and bacon-rind. Mrs. Mooney sat in the stra_rm-chair and watched the servant Mary remove the breakfast things. She ma_ary collect the crusts and pieces of broken bread to help to make Tuesday'_read- pudding. When the table was cleared, the broken bread collected, th_ugar and butter safe under lock and key, she began to reconstruct th_nterview which she had had the night before with Polly. Things were as sh_ad suspected: she had been frank in her questions and Polly had been frank i_er answers. Both had been somewhat awkward, of course. She had been mad_wkward by her not wishing to receive the news in too cavalier a fashion or t_eem to have connived and Polly had been made awkward not merely becaus_llusions of that kind always made her awkward but also because she did no_ish it to be thought that in her wise innocence she had divined the intentio_ehind her mother's tolerance.
Mrs. Mooney glanced instinctively at the little gilt clock on the mantelpiec_s soon as she had become aware through her revery that the bells of George'_hurch had stopped ringing. It was seventeen minutes past eleven: she woul_ave lots of time to have the matter out with Mr. Doran and then catch shor_welve at Marlborough Street. She was sure she would win. To begin with sh_ad all the weight of social opinion on her side: she was an outraged mother.
She had allowed him to live beneath her roof, assuming that he was a man o_onour and he had simply abused her hospitality. He was thirty-four or thirty-
five years of age, so that youth could not be pleaded as his excuse; nor coul_gnorance be his excuse since he was a man who had seen something of th_orld. He had simply taken advantage of Polly's youth and inexperience: tha_as evident. The question was: What reparation would he make?
There must be reparation made in such case. It is all very well for the man:
he can go his ways as if nothing had happened, having had his moment o_leasure, but the girl has to bear the brunt. Some mothers would be content t_atch up such an affair for a sum of money; she had known cases of it. But sh_ould not do so. For her only one reparation could make up for the loss of he_aughter's honour: marriage.
She counted all her cards again before sending Mary up to Doran's room to sa_hat she wished to speak with him. She felt sure she would win. He was _erious young man, not rakish or loud-voiced like the others. If it had bee_r. Sheridan or Mr. Meade or Bantam Lyons her task would have been muc_arder. She did not think he would face publicity. All the lodgers in th_ouse knew something of the affair; details had been invented by some.
Besides, he had been employed for thirteen years in a great Catholic wine-
merchant's office and publicity would mean for him, perhaps, the loss of hi_ob. Whereas if he agreed all might be well. She knew he had a good screw fo_ne thing and she suspected he had a bit of stuff put by.
Nearly the half-hour! She stood up and surveyed herself in the pier-glass. Th_ecisive expression of her great florid face satisfied her and she thought o_ome mothers she knew who could not get their daughters off their hands.
Mr. Doran was very anxious indeed this Sunday morning. He had made tw_ttempts to shave but his hand had been so unsteady that he had been oblige_o desist. Three days' reddish beard fringed his jaws and every two or thre_inutes a mist gathered on his glasses so that he had to take them off an_olish them with his pocket-handkerchief. The recollection of his confessio_f the night before was a cause of acute pain to him; the priest had drawn ou_very ridiculous detail of the affair and in the end had so magnified his si_hat he was almost thankful at being afforded a loophole of reparation. Th_arm was done. What could he do now but marry her or run away? He could no_razen it out. The affair would be sure to be talked of and his employer woul_e certain to hear of it. Dublin is such a small city: everyone knows everyon_lse's business. He felt his heart leap warmly in his throat as he heard i_is excited imagination old Mr. Leonard calling out in his rasping voice:
"Send Mr. Doran here, please."
All his long years of service gone for nothing! All his industry and diligenc_hrown away! As a young man he had sown his wild oats, of course; he ha_oasted of his free-thinking and denied the existence of God to his companion_n public- houses. But that was all passed and done with… nearly. He stil_ought a copy of Reynolds's Newspaper every week but he attended to hi_eligious duties and for nine-tenths of the year lived a regular life. He ha_oney enough to settle down on; it was not that. But the family would loo_own on her. First of all there was her disreputable father and then he_other's boarding house was beginning to get a certain fame. He had a notio_hat he was being had. He could imagine his friends talking of the affair an_aughing. She was a little vulgar; some times she said "I seen" and "If _ad've known." But what would grammar matter if he really loved her? He coul_ot make up his mind whether to like her or despise her for what she had done.
Of course he had done it too. His instinct urged him to remain free, not t_arry. Once you are married you are done for, it said.
While he was sitting helplessly on the side of the bed in shirt and trouser_he tapped lightly at his door and entered. She told him all, that she ha_ade a clean breast of it to her mother and that her mother would speak wit_im that morning. She cried and threw her arms round his neck, saying:
"O Bob! Bob! What am I to do? What am I to do at all?"
She would put an end to herself, she said.
He comforted her feebly, telling her not to cry, that it would be all right,
never fear. He felt against his shirt the agitation of her bosom.
It was not altogether his fault that it had happened. He remembered well, wit_he curious patient memory of the celibate, the first casual caresses he_ress, her breath, her fingers had given him. Then late one night as he wa_ndressing for she had tapped at his door, timidly. She wanted to relight he_andle at his for hers had been blown out by a gust. It was her bath night.
She wore a loose open combing- jacket of printed flannel. Her white inste_hone in the opening of her furry slippers and the blood glowed warmly behin_er perfumed skin. From her hands and wrists too as she lit and steadied he_andle a faint perfume arose.
On nights when he came in very late it was she who warmed up his dinner. H_carcely knew what he was eating feeling her beside him alone, at night, i_he sleeping house. And her thoughtfulness! If the night was anyway cold o_et or windy there was sure to be a little tumbler of punch ready for him.
Perhaps they could be happy together… .
They used to go upstairs together on tiptoe, each with a candle, and on th_hird landing exchange reluctant goodnights. They used to kiss. He remembere_ell her eyes, the touch of her hand and his delirium… .
But delirium passes. He echoed her phrase, applying it to himself: "What am _o do?" The instinct of the celibate warned him to hold back. But the sin wa_here; even his sense of honour told him that reparation must be made for suc_ sin.
While he was sitting with her on the side of the bed Mary came to the door an_aid that the missus wanted to see him in the parlour. He stood up to put o_is coat and waistcoat, more helpless than ever. When he was dressed he wen_ver to her to comfort her. It would be all right, never fear. He left he_rying on the bed and moaning softly: "O my God!"
Going down the stairs his glasses became so dimmed with moisture that he ha_o take them off and polish them. He longed to ascend through the roof and fl_way to another country where he would never hear again of his trouble, an_et a force pushed him downstairs step by step. The implacable faces of hi_mployer and of the Madam stared upon his discomfiture. On the last flight o_tairs he passed Jack Mooney who was coming up from the pantry nursing tw_ottles of Bass. They saluted coldly; and the lover's eyes rested for a secon_r two on a thick bulldog face and a pair of thick short arms. When he reache_he foot of the staircase he glanced up and saw Jack regarding him from th_oor of the return-room.
Suddenly he remembered the night when one of the musichall artistes, a littl_lond Londoner, had made a rather free allusion to Polly. The reunion had bee_lmost broken up on account of Jack's violence. Everyone tried to quiet him.
The music-hall artiste, a little paler than usual, kept smiling and sayin_hat there was no harm meant: but Jack kept shouting at him that if any fello_ried that sort of a game on with his sister he'd bloody well put his teet_own his throat, so he would.
Polly sat for a little time on the side of the bed, crying. Then she dried he_yes and went over to the looking-glass. She dipped the end of the towel i_he water-jug and refreshed her eyes with the cool water. She looked a_erself in profile and readjusted a hairpin above her ear. Then she went bac_o the bed again and sat at the foot. She regarded the pillows for a long tim_nd the sight of them awakened in her mind secret, amiable memories. Sh_ested the nape of her neck against the cool iron bed-rail and fell into _everie. There was no longer any perturbation visible on her face.
She waited on patiently, almost cheerfully, without alarm. her memorie_radually giving place to hopes and visions of the future. Her hopes an_isions were so intricate that she no longer saw the white pillows on whic_er gaze was fixed or remembered that she was waiting for anything.
At last she heard her mother calling. She started to her feet and ran to th_anisters.
"Come down, dear. Mr. Doran wants to speak to you."
Then she remembered what she had been waiting for.