North Richmond Street, being blind, was a quiet street except at the

hour when the Christian Brothers’ School set the boys free. An

uninhabited house of two storeys stood at the blind end, detached from

its neighbours in a square ground. The other houses of the street,

conscious of decent lives within them, gazed at one another with brown

imperturbable faces.

The former tenant of our house, a priest, had died in the back

drawing-room. Air, musty from having been long enclosed, hung in all

the rooms, and the waste room behind the kitchen was littered with old

useless papers. Among these I found a few paper-covered books, the

pages of which were curled and damp: _The Abbot_, by Walter Scott, _The

Devout Communicant_ and _The Memoirs of Vidocq_. I liked the last best

because its leaves were yellow. The wild garden behind the house

contained a central apple-tree and a few straggling bushes under one of

which I found the late tenant’s rusty bicycle-pump. He had been a very

charitable priest; in his will he had left all his money to

institutions and the furniture of his house to his sister.

When the short days of winter came dusk fell before we had well eaten

our dinners. When we met in the street the houses had grown sombre. The

space of sky above us was the colour of ever-changing violet and

towards it the lamps of the street lifted their feeble lanterns. The

cold air stung us and we played till our bodies glowed. Our shouts

echoed in the silent street. The career of our play brought us through

the dark muddy lanes behind the houses where we ran the gauntlet of the

rough tribes from the cottages, to the back doors of the dark dripping

gardens where odours arose from the ashpits, to the dark odorous

stables where a coachman smoothed and combed the horse or shook music

from the buckled harness. When we returned to the street light from the

kitchen windows had filled the areas. If my uncle was seen turning the

corner we hid in the shadow until we had seen him safely housed. Or if

Mangan’s sister came out on the doorstep to call her brother in to his

tea we watched her from our shadow peer up and down the street. We

waited to see whether she would remain or go in and, if she remained,

we left our shadow and walked up to Mangan’s steps resignedly. She was

waiting for us, her figure defined by the light from the half-opened

door. Her brother always teased her before he obeyed and I stood by the

railings looking at her. Her dress swung as she moved her body and the

soft rope of her hair tossed from side to side.

Every morning I lay on the floor in the front parlour watching her

door. The blind was pulled down to within an inch of the sash so that I

could not be seen. When she came out on the doorstep my heart leaped. I

ran to the hall, seized my books and followed her. I kept her brown

figure always in my eye and, when we came near the point at which our

ways diverged, I quickened my pace and passed her. This happened

morning after morning. I had never spoken to her, except for a few

casual words, and yet her name was like a summons to all my foolish


Her image accompanied me even in places the most hostile to romance. On

Saturday evenings when my aunt went marketing I had to go to carry some

of the parcels. We walked through the flaring streets, jostled by

drunken men and bargaining women, amid the curses of labourers, the

shrill litanies of shop-boys who stood on guard by the barrels of pigs’

cheeks, the nasal chanting of street-singers, who sang a _come-all-you_

about O’Donovan Rossa, or a ballad about the troubles in our native

land. These noises converged in a single sensation of life for me: I

imagined that I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes. Her

name sprang to my lips at moments in strange prayers and praises which

I myself did not understand. My eyes were often full of tears (I could

not tell why) and at times a flood from my heart seemed to pour itself

out into my bosom. I thought little of the future. I did not know

whether I would ever speak to her or not or, if I spoke to her, how I

could tell her of my confused adoration. But my body was like a harp

and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires.

One evening I went into the back drawing-room in which the priest had

died. It was a dark rainy evening and there was no sound in the house.

Through one of the broken panes I heard the rain impinge upon the

earth, the fine incessant needles of water playing in the sodden beds.

Some distant lamp or lighted window gleamed below me. I was thankful

that I could see so little. All my senses seemed to desire to veil

themselves and, feeling that I was about to slip from them, I pressed

the palms of my hands together until they trembled, murmuring: _“O

love! O love!”_ many times.

At last she spoke to me. When she addressed the first words to me I was

so confused that I did not know what to answer. She asked me was I

going to _Araby_. I forgot whether I answered yes or no. It would be a

splendid bazaar, she said; she would love to go.

“And why can’t you?” I asked.

While she spoke she turned a silver bracelet round and round her wrist.

She could not go, she said, because there would be a retreat that week

in her convent. Her brother and two other boys were fighting for their

caps and I was alone at the railings. She held one of the spikes,

bowing her head towards me. The light from the lamp opposite our door

caught the white curve of her neck, lit up her hair that rested there

and, falling, lit up the hand upon the railing. It fell over one side

of her dress and caught the white border of a petticoat, just visible

as she stood at ease.

“It’s well for you,” she said.

“If I go,” I said, “I will bring you something.”

What innumerable follies laid waste my waking and sleeping thoughts

after that evening! I wished to annihilate the tedious intervening

days. I chafed against the work of school. At night in my bedroom and

by day in the classroom her image came between me and the page I strove

to read. The syllables of the word _Araby_ were called to me through

the silence in which my soul luxuriated and cast an Eastern enchantment

over me. I asked for leave to go to the bazaar on Saturday night. My

aunt was surprised and hoped it was not some Freemason affair. I

answered few questions in class. I watched my master’s face pass from

amiability to sternness; he hoped I was not beginning to idle. I could

not call my wandering thoughts together. I had hardly any patience with

the serious work of life which, now that it stood between me and my

desire, seemed to me child’s play, ugly monotonous child’s play.

On Saturday morning I reminded my uncle that I wished to go to the

bazaar in the evening. He was fussing at the hallstand, looking for the

hat-brush, and answered me curtly:

“Yes, boy, I know.”

As he was in the hall I could not go into the front parlour and lie at

the window. I left the house in bad humour and walked slowly towards

the school. The air was pitilessly raw and already my heart misgave me.

When I came home to dinner my uncle had not yet been home. Still it was

early. I sat staring at the clock for some time and, when its ticking

began to irritate me, I left the room. I mounted the staircase and

gained the upper part of the house. The high cold empty gloomy rooms

liberated me and I went from room to room singing. From the front

window I saw my companions playing below in the street. Their cries

reached me weakened and indistinct and, leaning my forehead against the

cool glass, I looked over at the dark house where she lived. I may have

stood there for an hour, seeing nothing but the brown-clad figure cast

by my imagination, touched discreetly by the lamplight at the curved

neck, at the hand upon the railings and at the border below the dress.

When I came downstairs again I found Mrs Mercer sitting at the fire.

She was an old garrulous woman, a pawnbroker’s widow, who collected

used stamps for some pious purpose. I had to endure the gossip of the

tea-table. The meal was prolonged beyond an hour and still my uncle did

not come. Mrs Mercer stood up to go: she was sorry she couldn’t wait

any longer, but it was after eight o’clock and she did not like to be

out late as the night air was bad for her. When she had gone I began to

walk up and down the room, clenching my fists. My aunt said:

“I’m afraid you may put off your bazaar for this night of Our Lord.”

At nine o’clock I heard my uncle’s latchkey in the halldoor. I heard

him talking to himself and heard the hallstand rocking when it had

received the weight of his overcoat. I could interpret these signs.

When he was midway through his dinner I asked him to give me the money

to go to the bazaar. He had forgotten.

“The people are in bed and after their first sleep now,” he said.

I did not smile. My aunt said to him energetically:

“Can’t you give him the money and let him go? You’ve kept him late

enough as it is.”

My uncle said he was very sorry he had forgotten. He said he believed

in the old saying: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” He

asked me where I was going and, when I had told him a second time he

asked me did I know _The Arab’s Farewell to his Steed_. When I left the

kitchen he was about to recite the opening lines of the piece to my


I held a florin tightly in my hand as I strode down Buckingham Street

towards the station. The sight of the streets thronged with buyers and

glaring with gas recalled to me the purpose of my journey. I took my

seat in a third-class carriage of a deserted train. After an

intolerable delay the train moved out of the station slowly. It crept

onward among ruinous houses and over the twinkling river. At Westland

Row Station a crowd of people pressed to the carriage doors; but the

porters moved them back, saying that it was a special train for the

bazaar. I remained alone in the bare carriage. In a few minutes the

train drew up beside an improvised wooden platform. I passed out on to

the road and saw by the lighted dial of a clock that it was ten minutes

to ten. In front of me was a large building which displayed the magical


I could not find any sixpenny entrance and, fearing that the bazaar

would be closed, I passed in quickly through a turnstile, handing a

shilling to a weary-looking man. I found myself in a big hall girdled

at half its height by a gallery. Nearly all the stalls were closed and

the greater part of the hall was in darkness. I recognised a silence

like that which pervades a church after a service. I walked into the

centre of the bazaar timidly. A few people were gathered about the

stalls which were still open. Before a curtain, over which the words

_Café Chantant_ were written in coloured lamps, two men were counting

money on a salver. I listened to the fall of the coins.

Remembering with difficulty why I had come I went over to one of the

stalls and examined porcelain vases and flowered tea-sets. At the door

of the stall a young lady was talking and laughing with two young

gentlemen. I remarked their English accents and listened vaguely to

their conversation.

“O, I never said such a thing!”

“O, but you did!”

“O, but I didn’t!”

“Didn’t she say that?”

“Yes. I heard her.”

“O, there’s a … fib!”

Observing me the young lady came over and asked me did I wish to buy

anything. The tone of her voice was not encouraging; she seemed to have

spoken to me out of a sense of duty. I looked humbly at the great jars

that stood like eastern guards at either side of the dark entrance to

the stall and murmured:

“No, thank you.”

The young lady changed the position of one of the vases and went back

to the two young men. They began to talk of the same subject. Once or

twice the young lady glanced at me over her shoulder.

I lingered before her stall, though I knew my stay was useless, to make

my interest in her wares seem the more real. Then I turned away slowly

and walked down the middle of the bazaar. I allowed the two pennies to

fall against the sixpence in my pocket. I heard a voice call from one

end of the gallery that the light was out. The upper part of the hall

was now completely dark.

Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and

derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.

Shaws and Goolees

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