Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Dubliners by James Joyce

Part 5 out of 5

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.5 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

quaintness of her phrase, put his hands on her hair and began
smoothing it back, scarcely touching it with his fingers. The
washing had made it fine and brilliant. His heart was brimming
over with happiness. Just when he was wishing for it she had come
to him of her own accord. Perhaps her thoughts had been running
with his. Perhaps she had felt the impetuous desire that was in
him, and then the yielding mood had come upon her. Now that she
had fallen to him so easily, he wondered why he had been so

He stood, holding her head between his hands. Then, slipping one
arm swiftly about her body and drawing her towards him, he said

"Gretta, dear, what are you thinking about?"

She did not answer nor yield wholly to his arm. He said again,

"Tell me what it is, Gretta. I think I know what is the matter. Do I

She did not answer at once. Then she said in an outburst of tears:

"O, I am thinking about that song, The Lass of Aughrim."

She broke loose from him and ran to the bed and, throwing her
arms across the bed-rail, hid her face. Gabriel stood stockstill for a
moment in astonishment and then followed her. As he passed in
the way of the cheval-glass he caught sight of himself in full
length, his broad, well-filled shirt-front, the face whose expression
always puzzled him when he saw it in a mirror, and his
glimmering gilt-rimmed eyeglasses. He halted a few paces from
her and said:

"What about the song? Why does that make you cry?"

She raised her head from her arms and dried her eyes with the
back of her hand like a child. A kinder note than he had intended
went into his voice.

"Why, Gretta?" he asked.

"I am thinking about a person long ago who used to sing that

"And who was the person long ago?" asked Gabriel, smiling.

"It was a person I used to know in Galway when I was living with
my grandmother," she said.

The smile passed away from Gabriel's face. A dull anger began to
gather again at the back of his mind and the dull fires of his lust
began to glow angrily in his veins.

"Someone you were in love with?" he asked ironically.

"It was a young boy I used to know," she answered, "named
Michael Furey. He used to sing that song, The Lass of Aughrim.
He was very delicate."

Gabriel was silent. He did not wish her to think that he was
interested in this delicate boy.

"I can see him so plainly," she said, after a moment. "Such eyes as
he had: big, dark eyes! And such an expression in them--an

"O, then, you are in love with him?" said Gabriel.

"I used to go out walking with him," she said, "when I was in

A thought flew across Gabriel's mind.

"Perhaps that was why you wanted to go to Galway with that Ivors
girl?" he said coldly.

She looked at him and asked in surprise:

"What for?"

Her eyes made Gabriel feel awkward. He shrugged his shoulders
and said:

"How do I know? To see him, perhaps."

She looked away from him along the shaft of light towards the
window in silence.

"He is dead," she said at length. "He died when he was only
seventeen. Isn't it a terrible thing to die so young as that?"

"What was he?" asked Gabriel, still ironically.

"He was in the gasworks," she said.

Gabriel felt humiliated by the failure of his irony and by the
evocation of this figure from the dead, a boy in the gasworks.
While he had been full of memories of their secret life together,
full of tenderness and joy and desire, she had been comparing him
in her mind with another. A shameful consciousness of his own
person assailed him. He saw himself as a ludicrous figure, acting
as a pennyboy for his aunts, a nervous, well-meaning
sentimentalist, orating to vulgarians and idealising his own
clownish lusts, the pitiable fatuous fellow he had caught a glimpse
of in the mirror. Instinctively he turned his back more to the light
lest she might see the shame that burned upon his forehead.

He tried to keep up his tone of cold interrogation, but his voice
when he spoke was humble and indifferent.

"I suppose you were in love with this Michael Furey, Gretta," he

"I was great with him at that time," she said.

Her voice was veiled and sad. Gabriel, feeling now how vain it
would be to try to lead her whither he had purposed, caressed one
of her hands and said, also sadly:

"And what did he die of so young, Gretta? Consumption, was it?"

"I think he died for me," she answered.

A vague terror seized Gabriel at this answer, as if, at that hour
when he had hoped to triumph, some impalpable and vindictive
being was coming against him, gathering forces against him in its
vague world. But he shook himself free of it with an effort of
reason and continued to caress her hand. He did not question her
again, for he felt that she would tell him of herself. Her hand was
warm and moist: it did not respond to his touch, but he continued
to caress it just as he had caressed her first letter to him that spring

"It was in the winter," she said, "about the beginning of the winter
when I was going to leave my grandmother's and come up here to
the convent. And he was ill at the time in his lodgings in Galway
and wouldn't be let out, and his people in Oughterard were written
to. He was in decline, they said, or something like that. I never
knew rightly."

She paused for a moment and sighed.

"Poor fellow," she said. "He was very fond of me and he was such
a gentle boy. We used to go out together, walking, you know,
Gabriel, like the way they do in the country. He was going to study
singing only for his health. He had a very good voice, poor
Michael Furey."

"Well; and then?" asked Gabriel.

"And then when it came to the time for me to leave Galway and
come up to the convent he was much worse and I wouldn't be let
see him so I wrote him a letter saying I was going up to Dublin and
would be back in the summer, and hoping he would be better

She paused for a moment to get her voice under control, and then
went on:

"Then the night before I left, I was in my grandmother's house in
Nuns' Island, packing up, and I heard gravel thrown up against the
window. The window was so wet I couldn't see, so I ran downstairs
as I was and slipped out the back into the garden and there was the
poor fellow at the end of the garden, shivering."

"And did you not tell him to go back?" asked Gabriel.

"I implored of him to go home at once and told him he would get
his death in the rain. But he said he did not want to live. I can see
his eyes as well as well! He was standing at the end of the wall
where there was a tree."

"And did he go home?" asked Gabriel.

"Yes, he went home. And when I was only a week in the convent
he died and he was buried in Oughterard, where his people came
from. O, the day I heard that, that he was dead!"

She stopped, choking with sobs, and, overcome by emotion, flung
herself face downward on the bed, sobbing in the quilt. Gabriel
held her hand for a moment longer, irresolutely, and then, shy of
intruding on her grief, let it fall gently and walked quietly to the

She was fast asleep.

Gabriel, leaning on his elbow, looked for a few moments
unresentfully on her tangled hair and half-open mouth, listening to
her deep-drawn breath. So she had had that romance in her life: a
man had died for her sake. It hardly pained him now to think how
poor a part he, her husband, had played in her life. He watched her
while she slept, as though he and she had never lived together as
man and wife. His curious eyes rested long upon her face and on
her hair: and, as he thought of what she must have been then, in
that time of her first girlish beauty, a strange, friendly pity for her
entered his soul. He did not like to say even to himself that her
face was no longer beautiful, but he knew that it was no longer the
face for which Michael Furey had braved death.

Perhaps she had not told him all the story. His eyes moved to the
chair over which she had thrown some of her clothes. A petticoat
string dangled to the floor. One boot stood upright, its limp upper
fallen down: the fellow of it lay upon its side. He wondered at his
riot of emotions of an hour before. From what had it proceeded?
From his aunt's supper, from his own foolish speech, from the wine
and dancing, the merry-making when saying good-night in the hall,
the pleasure of the walk along the river in the snow. Poor Aunt
Julia! She, too, would soon be a shade with the shade of Patrick
Morkan and his horse. He had caught that haggard look upon her
face for a moment when she was singing Arrayed for the Bridal.
Soon, perhaps, he would be sitting in that same drawing-room,
dressed in black, his silk hat on his knees. The blinds would be
drawn down and Aunt Kate would be sitting beside him, crying
and blowing her nose and telling him how Julia had died. He
would cast about in his mind for some words that might console
her, and would find only lame and useless ones. Yes, yes: that
would happen very soon.

The air of the room chilled his shoulders. He stretched himself
cautiously along under the sheets and lay down beside his wife.
One by one, they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into
that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and
wither dismally with age. He thought of how she who lay beside
him had locked in her heart for so many years that image of her
lover's eyes when he had told her that he did not wish to live.

Generous tears filled Gabriel's eyes. He had never felt like that
himself towards any woman, but he knew that such a feeling must
be love. The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the
partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man
standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul
had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead.
He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and
flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey
impalpable world: the solid world itself, which these dead had one
time reared and lived in, was dissolving and dwindling.

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It
had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver
and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had
come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the
newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was
falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills,
falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly
falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too,
upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael
Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and
headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns.
His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly
through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their
last end, upon all the living and the dead.

Book of the day: