Mrs Mooney was a butcher’s daughter. She was a woman who was quite able

to keep things to herself: a determined woman. She had married her

father’s foreman and opened a butcher’s shop near Spring Gardens. But

as soon as his father-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 the pledge: he was sure to break out again a few

days after. By fighting his wife in 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 in a neighbour’s house.

After that they lived apart. She went to the priest and got a

separation from him with care of the children. She would give him

neither money nor food nor house-room; and so he was obliged to enlist

himself as a sheriff’s man. He was a shabby stooped little drunkard

with a white face and a white moustache and white eyebrows, pencilled

above his little eyes, which were pink-veined and raw; and all day 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 business

and set up a boarding house in Hardwicke Street, was a big imposing

woman. Her house had a floating population made up of tourists from

Liverpool and the Isle of Man and, occasionally, _artistes_ from the

music-halls. Its resident population was made up of clerks from the

city. She governed her house cunningly and firmly, knew when to give

credit, when to be stern and when to let 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 and occupations and for this reason they were very chummy with

one another. They discussed with one another the chances of favourites

and outsiders. Jack Mooney, 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 friends he had always a good one to

tell them and he was always sure to be on to a good thing—that is to

say, a likely horse or a likely _artiste_. He was also handy with the

mits and sang comic songs. On Sunday nights there would often be a

reunion in Mrs Mooney’s front drawing-room. The music-hall _artistes_

would oblige; and Sheridan played waltzes and polkas and vamped

accompaniments. 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

full mouth. Her eyes, which were grey with a shade of green through

them, had a habit of glancing upwards when she spoke with anyone, which

made her look like a little perverse madonna. Mrs Mooney had first sent

her daughter to be a typist in a corn-factor’s office but, as a

disreputable sheriff’s man used to come every other day to the office,

asking to be allowed to say a word to his daughter, 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 young men. Besides,

young men like to feel that there is a young woman not very far away.

Polly, of course, flirted with the young men but Mrs Mooney, who was a

shrewd judge, knew that the young men were only passing the time away:

none of them meant business. Things went on so for a long time and Mrs

Mooney began to think of sending Polly back to typewriting when she

noticed that something was going on between Polly and one of the young

men. She watched the pair and kept her own counsel.

Polly knew that she was being watched, but still her mother’s

persistent silence could not be misunderstood. There had been no open

complicity between mother and daughter, no open understanding but,

though people in the house began to talk of the affair, still Mrs

Mooney did not intervene. Polly began to grow a little strange in her

manner and the young man was evidently perturbed. At last, when she

judged it to be the right moment, Mrs Mooney intervened. She dealt with

moral problems as a cleaver deals with meat: and in this case she had

made up her mind.

It was a bright Sunday morning of early summer, promising heat, but

with a fresh breeze blowing. All the windows of the boarding house were

open and the lace curtains ballooned gently towards the street beneath

the raised sashes. The belfry of George’s Church sent out constant

peals and worshippers, singly or in groups, traversed the little circus

before the church, revealing their purpose by their self-contained

demeanour no less than by the little volumes in their gloved hands.

Breakfast was over in the boarding house and the table of the

breakfast-room was covered with plates on which lay yellow streaks of

eggs with morsels of bacon-fat and bacon-rind. Mrs Mooney sat in the

straw arm-chair and watched the servant Mary remove the breakfast

things. She made Mary collect the crusts and pieces of broken bread to

help to make Tuesday’s bread-pudding. When the table was cleared, the

broken bread collected, the sugar and butter safe under lock and key,

she began to reconstruct the interview which she had had the night

before with Polly. Things were as she had suspected: she had been frank

in her questions and Polly had been frank in her answers. Both had been

somewhat awkward, of course. She had been made awkward by her not

wishing to receive the news in too cavalier a fashion or to seem to

have connived and Polly had been made awkward not merely because

allusions of that kind always made her awkward but also because she did

not wish it to be thought that in her wise innocence she had divined

the intention behind her mother’s tolerance.

Mrs Mooney glanced instinctively at the little gilt clock on the

mantelpiece as soon as she had become aware through her revery that the

bells of George’s Church had stopped ringing. It was seventeen minutes

past eleven: she would have lots of time to have the matter out with Mr

Doran and then catch short twelve at Marlborough Street. She was sure

she would win. To begin with she had 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 of honour, 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 could

ignorance be his excuse since he was a man who had seen something of

the world. He had simply taken advantage of Polly’s youth and

inexperience: that was evident. The question was: What reparation would

he make?

There must be reparation made in such cases. It is all very well for

the man: he can go his ways as if nothing had happened, having had his

moment of pleasure, but the girl has to bear the brunt. Some mothers

would be content to patch up such an affair for a sum of money; she had

known cases of it. But she would not do so. For her only one reparation

could make up for the loss of her daughter’s honour: marriage.

She counted all her cards again before sending Mary up to Mr Doran’s

room to say that she wished to speak with him. She felt sure she would

win. He was a serious young man, not rakish or loud-voiced like the

others. If it had been Mr Sheridan or Mr Meade or Bantam Lyons her task

would have been much harder. She did not think he would face publicity.

All the lodgers in the house 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 his job. Whereas if he agreed all might be

well. She knew he had a good screw for one 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. The decisive expression of her great florid face satisfied

her and she thought of some mothers she knew who could not get their

daughters off their hands.

Mr Doran was very anxious indeed this Sunday morning. He had made two

attempts to shave but his hand had been so unsteady that he had been

obliged to desist. Three days’ reddish beard fringed his jaws and every

two or three minutes a mist gathered on his glasses so that he had to

take them off and polish them with his pocket-handkerchief. The

recollection of his confession of the night before was a cause of acute

pain to him; the priest had drawn out every ridiculous detail of the

affair and in the end had so magnified his sin that he was almost

thankful at being afforded a loophole of reparation. The harm was done.

What could he do now but marry her or run away? He could not brazen it

out. The affair would be sure to be talked of and his employer would be

certain to hear of it. Dublin is such a small city: everyone knows

everyone else’s business. He felt his heart leap warmly in his throat

as he heard in his 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

diligence thrown away! As a young man he had sown his wild oats, of

course; he had boasted of his free-thinking and denied the existence of

God to his companions in public-houses. But that was all passed and

done with … nearly. He still bought a copy of _Reynolds’s Newspaper_

every week but he attended to his religious duties and for nine-tenths

of the year lived a regular life. He had money enough to settle down

on; it was not that. But the family would look down on her. First of

all there was her disreputable father and then her mother’s boarding

house was beginning to get a certain fame. He had a notion that he was

being had. He could imagine his friends talking of the affair and

laughing. She _was_ a little vulgar; sometimes she said “I seen” and

“If I had’ve known.” But what would grammar matter if he really loved

her? He could not 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 to marry. Once you are married you are done

for, it said.

While he was sitting helplessly on the side of the bed in shirt and

trousers she tapped lightly at his door and entered. She told him all,

that she had made a clean breast of it to her mother and that her

mother would speak with him 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


It was not altogether his fault that it had happened. He remembered

well, with the curious patient memory of the celibate, the first casual

caresses her dress, her breath, her fingers had given him. Then late

one night as he was undressing for bed she had tapped at his door,

timidly. She wanted to relight her candle 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 instep shone in the

opening of her furry slippers and the blood glowed warmly behind her

perfumed skin. From her hands and wrists too as she lit and steadied

her candle a faint perfume arose.

On nights when he came in very late it was she who warmed up his

dinner. He scarcely knew what he was eating, feeling her beside him

alone, at night, in the sleeping house. And her thoughtfulness! If the

night was anyway cold or wet or windy there was sure to be a little

tumbler of punch ready for him. Perhaps they could be happy


They used to go upstairs together on tiptoe, each with a candle, and on

the third landing exchange reluctant good-nights. They used to kiss. He

remembered well her eyes, the touch of her hand and his delirium….

But delirium passes. He echoed her phrase, applying it to himself:

_“What am I to do?”_ The instinct of the celibate warned him to hold

back. But the sin was there; even his sense of honour told him that

reparation must be made for such a sin.

While he was sitting with her on the side of the bed Mary came to the

door and said that the missus wanted to see him in the parlour. He

stood up to put on his coat and waistcoat, more helpless than ever.

When he was dressed he went over to her to comfort her. It would be all

right, never fear. He left her crying on the bed and moaning softly:

_“O my God!”_

Going down the stairs his glasses became so dimmed with moisture that

he had to take them off and polish them. He longed to ascend through

the roof and fly away to another country where he would never hear

again of his trouble, and yet a force pushed him downstairs step by

step. The implacable faces of his employer and of the Madam stared upon

his discomfiture. On the last flight of stairs he passed Jack Mooney

who was coming up from the pantry nursing two bottles of _Bass_. They

saluted coldly; and the lover’s eyes rested for a second or two on a

thick bulldog face and a pair of thick short arms. When he reached the

foot of the staircase he glanced up and saw Jack regarding him from the

door of the return-room.

Suddenly he remembered the night when one of the music-hall _artistes_,

a little blond Londoner, had made a rather free allusion to Polly. The

reunion had been almost 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 saying that there was no harm meant: but

Jack kept shouting at him that if any fellow tried that sort of a game

on with _his_ sister he’d bloody well put his teeth down his throat, so

he would.

Polly sat for a little time on the side of the bed, crying. Then she

dried her eyes and went over to the looking-glass. She dipped the end

of the towel in the water-jug and refreshed her eyes with the cool

water. She looked at herself in profile and readjusted a hairpin above

her ear. Then she went back to the bed again and sat at the foot. She

regarded the pillows for a long time and the sight of them awakened in

her mind secret amiable memories. She rested the nape of her neck

against the cool iron bed-rail and fell into a revery. There was no

longer any perturbation visible on her face.

She waited on patiently, almost cheerfully, without alarm, her memories

gradually giving place to hopes and visions of the future. Her hopes

and visions were so intricate that she no longer saw the white pillows

on which her gaze was fixed or remembered that she was waiting for


At last she heard her mother calling. She started to her feet and ran

to the banisters.

“Polly! Polly!”

“Yes, mamma?”

“Come down, dear. Mr Doran wants to speak to you.”

Then she remembered what she had been waiting for.

Shaws and Goolees

%d bloggers like this: