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Chapter 7 The Boarding House

  • 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.
  • "Polly! Polly!"
  • "Yes, mamma?"
  • "Come down, dear. Mr. Doran wants to speak to you."
  • Then she remembered what she had been waiting for.