Part 1 out of 8
Produced by Charles Aldarondo, Tiffany Vergon,
and PG Distributed Proofreaders
THE FOOLISH LOVERS
ST. JOHN G. ERVINE
TO MY MOTHER
who asked me to write a story without any "Bad words" in it;
TO MRS. J. O. HANNAY
who asked me to write a story without any "Sex" in it.
THE FIRST BOOK OF THE FOOLISH LOVERS
Why, 'tis an office of discovery, love!
_The Merchant of Venice._
Love unpaid does soon disband.
THE FIRST CHAPTER
If you were to say to an Ulster man, "Who are the proudest people in
Ireland?" he would first of all stare at you as if he had difficulty in
believing that any intelligent person could ask a question with so
obvious an answer, and then he would reply, "Why, the Ulster people, of
course!" And if you were to say to a Ballyards man, "Who are the
proudest people in Ulster?" he would reply ... if he deigned to reply
at all ... "A child would know that! The Ballyards people, of course!"
It is difficult for anyone who is not a native of the town, to
understand why the inhabitants of Ballyards should possess so great a
pride in their birthplace. It is not a large town ... it is not even
the largest town in the county ... nor has it any notable features to
distinguish it from a dozen other towns of similar size in that part of
Ireland. Millreagh, although it is now a poor, scattered sort of place,
was once of great importance: for the mail-boats sailed from its
harbour to Port Michael until the steamship owners agreed that Port
Michael was too much exposed to the severities of rough weather, and
chose another harbour elsewhere. Millreagh mourns over its lost glory,
attributable in no way to the fault of Millreagh, but entirely to the
inscrutable design of Providence which arranged that Port Michael, and
not Kirkmull, should lie on the opposite side of the Irish Sea; and
every Sunday morning, after church, and sometimes on Sunday afternoon,
the people walk along the breakwater to the lighthouse and remind each
other of the days when their town was of consequence. "We spent a
hundred and fifty thousand pounds on our harbour," they say to each
other, "and then the Scotch went and did the like of that!"--the like
of that being their stupidity in living in an exposed situation.
Millreagh does not admit that it has suffered any more than a temporary
diminishment of its greatness, and it makes optimistic and boastful
prophecies of the fortune and repute that will come to it when the
engineers make a tunnel between Scotland and Ireland. Sometimes an
article on the Channel Tunnel will appear in the _Newsletter_ or
the _Whig_, and for weeks afterwards Millreagh lives in a fever of
expectancy; for whatever else may be said about the Tunnel, this is
certain to be said of it, that it will start, in Ireland, from
Millreagh. On that brilliant hope, Millreagh, tightening its belt,
lives in a fair degree of happiness, eking out its present poverty by
fishing and by letting lodgings in the summer.
Pickie, too, has much reputation, more, perhaps, than Millreagh, for it
is a popular holiday town and was once described in the _Evening
Telegraph_ as "the Blackpool of Ireland." This description, although
it was apt enough, offended the more pretentious people in Pickie who
were only mollified when the innocent reporter, in a later article,
altered the description to, "the Brighton of Ireland." With consummate
understanding of human character, he added, remembering the Yacht Club,
that perhaps the most accurate description of Pickie would be "the
Cowes of Ireland." In this way, the reporter, who subsequently became a
member of parliament and made much money, pleased the harmless vanity
of the lower, the middle and the upper classes of Pickie; and for a
time they were "ill to thole" on account of the swollen condition of
their heads, and it became necessary to utter sneers at "ham-and-egg
parades" and "the tripper element" and to speak loudly and frequently
of the superior merits of Portrush, "a really nice place," before they
could be persuaded to believe that Pickie, like other towns, is
inhabited by common human beings.
Ballyards never yielded an inch of its pride of place to Millreagh or
to Pickie. "What's an oul' harbour when there's no boat in it?"
Ballyards said to Millreagh; and, "Sure, the man makes his livin'
sellin' sausages!" it said to Pickie when Pickie bragged of the great
grocer who had joined the Yacht Club in order that he might issue a
challenge for the Atlantic Cup. Tunnels and attractive seaboards were
extraneous things that might bring fortune, but could not bring merit,
to those lucky enough to possess them; but Ballyards had character ...
its men were meritable men ... and Ballyards would not exchange the
least of its inhabitants for ten tunnels. Nor did Ballyards abate any
of its pride before the ancient and indisputable renown of Dunbar,
which distils a whiskey that has soothed the gullets of millions of men
throughout the world. When Patrickstown bragged of its long history ...
it was once the home of the kings of Ulster ... and tried to make the
world believe that St. Patrick was buried in its cathedral, Ballyards,
magnificently imperturbed, murmured: "Your population is goin' down!";
nor does it manifest any respect for Greenry, which has a member of
parliament to itself and has twice the population of Ballyards. "It's
an ugly hole," says Ballyards, "an' it's full of Papishes!"
Millreagh and Pickie openly sneer at Ballyards, and Greenry affects to
be unaware of it, but the pride of Ballyards remains unaltered,
incapable of being diminished, incapable even of being increased ...
for pride cannot go to greater lengths than the pride of Ballyards has
already gone ... and in spite of contention and denial, it asserts,
invincibly persistent, that it is the finest and most meritabie town in
Ireland. When sceptics ask for proofs, Ballyards replies, "We don't
need proofs!" A drunken man said, on a particularly hearty Saturday
night, that Ballyards was the finest town in the world, but the general
opinion of his fellow-townsmen was that this claim, while very human,
was excessively expressed. London, for example, was bigger than
Ballyards. So was New York!.... The drunken man, when he had recovered
his sobriety, admitted that this was true, but he contended, and was
well supported in his contention, that while London and New York might
be bigger than Ballyards, neither of these cities were inhabited by men
of such independent spirit as the men of Ballyards. A Ballyards man, he
asserted, was beholden to no one. Once, and once only, a Millreagh man
said that a Ballyards man thought he was being independent when he was
being ill-bred; but Ballyards people would have none of this talk, and,
after they had severely assaulted him, they drove the Millreagh man
back to his "stinkin' wee town" and forbade him ever to put his foot in
Ballyards again. "You know what you'll get if you do. Your head in your
hands!" was the threat they shouted after him. And surely the wide
world knows the story ... falsely credited to other places ... which
every Ballyards child learns in its cradle, of the man who, on being
rebuked in a foreign city for spitting, said to those who rebuked him,
"I come from the town of Ballyards, an' I'll spit where I like!"
It was his pride in his birthplace which sometimes made John MacDermott
hesitate to accept the advice of his Uncle Matthew and listen leniently
to the advice of his Uncle William. Uncle Matthew urged him to seek his
fortune in foreign parts, but Uncle William said, "Bedam to foreign
parts when you can live in Ballyards!" Uncle Matthew, who had never
been out of Ireland in his life, had much knowledge of the works of
English writers, and from these works, he had drawn a romantic picture
of London. The English city, in his imagination, was a place of
marvellous adventures, far mere wonderful than the ancient city of
Bagdad or the still more ancient city of Damascus, wherein anything
might happen to a man who kept his eyes open or, for the matter of
that, shut. He never tired of reading Mr. Andrew Lang's _Historical
Mysteries_, and he liked to think of himself suddenly being accosted
in the street by some dark stranger demanding to know whether he had a
taste for adventure. Uncle Matthew was not quite certain what he would
do if such a thing were to happen to him: whether to proclaim himself
as eager for anything that was odd and queer or to threaten the
stranger with the police. "You might think a man was going to lead you
to a hidden place, mebbe, where there'd be a lovely woman waiting to
receive you, and you blindfolded 'til you were shown into the room
where she was ... and mebbe you'd be queerly disappointed, for it
mightn't be that sort of a thing at all, but only some lad trying to
steal your watch and chain!"
He had heard very unpleasant stories of what he called the Confidence
Trick, whereby innocent persons were beguiled by seemingly amiable men
into parting with all their possessions!...
"Of course," he would admit, "you'd never have no adventures at all, if
you never ran no risks, and mebbe in the end, you do well to chance
things. It's a queer pity a man never has any adventures in this place.
Many's and many's a time I've walked the roads, thinking mebbe I'd meet
someone with a turn that way, but I never in all my born days met
anything queer or unusual, and I don't suppose I ever will now!"
Uncle Matthew had spoken so sadly and so longingly that John had deeply
pitied him. "Did you never fall in love with no one, Uncle Matthew?" he
"Och, indeed I did, John!" Uncle Matthew replied. "Many's and many's
the time! Your Uncle William used to make fun of me and sing
_'Shilly-shally with the wee girls, ha, ha, ha!'_ at me when I was
a wee lad because I was always running after the young girls and
sweethearting with them. He never ran after any himself: he was always
looking for birds' nests or tormenting people with his tricks. He was a
daft wee fellow for devilment, was your Uncle William, and yet he's
sobered down remarkably. Sometimes, I think he got more romance out of
his tormenting and nesting than I got out of my courting, though love's
a grand thing, John, when you can get it. I was always falling in love,
but sure what was the good? I never could be content with the way the
girls talked about furniture and us setting up house together, when all
the time I was wanting hard to be rescuing them from something. No
wonder they wouldn't have me in the end, for, of course, it's very
important to get good furniture and to set up a house somewhere nice
and snug ... but I never was one for scringing and scrounging ... my
money always melted away from the minute I got it ... and I couldn't
bear the look of the furniture-men when you asked them how much it
would cost to furnish a house on the hire-system!"
He paused for a moment, reflecting perhaps on the pleasures that had
been missed by him because of his inability to save money and his
dislike of practical concerns. Then in a brisker tone, as if he were
consoling himself for his losses, he said, "Oh, well, there's
consolation for everyone somewhere if they'll only take the trouble to
look for it, and after all I've had a queer good time reading books!"
"Mebbe, Uncle Matthew," John suggested, "if you'd left Ballyards and
gone to London, you'd have had a whole lot of adventures!"
"Mebbe I would," Uncle Matthew replied. "Though sometimes I think I'm
not the sort that has adventures, for there's men in the world would
find something romantic wherever they went, and I daresay if Lord Byron
were living here in Ballyards, he'd have the women crying their eyes
out for him. That was a terrible romantic man, John! Lord Byron! A
terrible man for falling in love, God bless him!..."
It was Uncle Matthew who urged John to read Shakespeare--"a very
plain-spoken, knowledgable man, Shakespeare!"--and Lord Byron--"a terrible
bad lord, John, but a fine courter of girls and a grand poet!"--and
Herrick--"a queer sort of minister, that man Herrick, but a good poet
all the same!"--and Dickens. Dickens was the incomparable one who
filled dull streets with vital figures: Sam Weller and Mr. Pickwick and
Mr. Micawber and Mrs. Nickleby and Mr. Mantalini and Steerforth and
David Copperfield and Barkis; and terrible figures: Fagan and Bill
Sykes and Uriah Heap and Squeers and Mr. Murdstone and that fearful man
who drank so much that he died of spontaneous combustion; and pathetic
figures: Sidney Carton and Little Nell and Oliver Twist and Nancy and
Dora and Little Dorritt and the Little Marchioness.
"You'd meet the like of them any minute of the day in London," said
Uncle Matthew. "You'd mebbe be walking up a street, the Strand, mebbe,
or in Hyde Park or Whitechapel, and in next to no time at all, you'd
run into the whole jam-boiling of them. London's the queer place for
seeing queer people. Never be content, John, when you're a man, to stay
on in this place where nothing ever happens to anyone, but quit off out
of it and see the world. There's all sorts in London, black men and
yellow men, and I wouldn't be surprised but there's a wheen of Red
Indians, too, with, feathers in their head!...."
"I'd be afeard of them fellows," said John. "They'd scalp you, mebbe!"
"Ah, sure, the peelers wouldn't let them," said Uncle Matthew. "And
anyway you needn't go near them. They keep that sort down by the Docks
and never let them near the places where the fine, lovely women live.
London's the place to see the lovely women, John, all dressed up in
silk dresses, for that's where the high-up women go ... in the Season,
they call it ... and they take their young, lovely daughters with them,
grand wee girls with nice hair and fine complexions and a grand way of
talking ... to get them married, of course. I read in a book one time,
there was a young fellow, come of a poor family, was walking in one of
the parks where the quality-women take their horses every day, and a
young and lovely girl was riding up and down as nice as you like, when
all of a sudden her horse ran away with her. The young fellow never
hesitated for a minute, but jumped over the railings and stopped the
horse, and the girl was that thankful and pleased, him and her was
married after. And she was a lord's daughter, John! A very high-up
lord! She belonged to a queer proud family, but she wasn't too proud to
fall in love with him, and they had a grand time together!"
"Were they rich?" said John.
Uncle Matthew nodded his head. "It would be a great thing now," he
said, "if a lord's daughter was to take a fancy to you!..."
"I'd have to be queer and adventurous for the like of that to happen to
me, Uncle Matthew," John exclaimed. He had never seen a lord's
daughter, but he had seen Lady Castlederry, a proud and beautiful
woman, who seemed to be totally unaware of his existence when he passed
by her on the road.
"Well, and aren't you as fond of adventure as anybody in the wide
world?" Uncle Matthew retorted.
"Indeed, that's true," John admitted, "but then I never had any
adventures in my born days, and you yourself would like to have one,
but you've never had any!"
Uncle Matthew sat quietly in his chair for a few moments. Then he drew
his nephew close to him and stroked his hair.
"Come here 'til I whisper to you," he said. "D'you know why I never had
any adventures, John?"
"No, Uncle Matthew, I do not!'
"Well, I'll tell you then, though I never admitted it to anyone else in
the world, and I'll mebbe never admit it again. I never had any because
I was afraid to have them!"
"Afeard, Uncle Matthew?" John exclaimed. He had net yet trimmed his
tongue to say "afraid."
"Aye, son, heart-afraid. There's many a fine woman I'd have run away
with, only I was afraid mebbe I'd be caught. You'll never have no
adventures if you're afraid to have them, that's a sure and certain
John struggled out of his Uncle's embrace and turned squarely to face
"I'm not afeard, Uncle Matthew," he asserted.
"Are you not, son?"
"I'm not afeard of anything. I'd give anybody their cowardy-blow!..."
"There's few people in the world can say that, John!" Uncle Matthew
People often said of Uncle Matthew that he was "quare in the head," but
John had never noticed anything queer about him. Mrs. MacDermott,
finding her son in the attic where Uncle Matthew kept his books,
reading an old, torn copy of Smollett's translation of _Gil Blas_,
had said to him, "Son, dear, quit reading them oul' books, do, or
you'll have your mind moidhered like your Uncle Matthew!"
And Willie Logan, tormenting him once because he had refused to
acknowledge his leadership, had called after him that his Uncle Matthew
was astray in the mind. It was a very great satisfaction to John that
just as Willie Logan uttered his taunt, Uncle William came round
McCracken's corner and heard it. Uncle William, a hasty, robust man,
had clouted Willie Logon's head for him and sent him home howling.
"Go home and learn your manners," he had shouted at the blubbering boy.
"Go home and learn your manners, you ill-bred brat, you!"
Uncle William had spoken very gravely and tenderly to John after that
affair, as they walked home together. "Never let anyone make little of
your Uncle Matthew!" he had said to his nephew. "He's a well-read man,
for all his queer talk, and many's a wise thing he says when you're not
expecting it. I never was much of a one for trusting to books
myself.... I couldn't give my mind to them somehow ... but I have a
great respect for books, all the same. It isn't every man can spare the
time for learning or has the inclination for it, but we can all pay
respect to them that has, whatever sort of an upbringing we've got!"
It was then that John MacDermott learned to love his Uncle William
almost as much as he loved his Uncle Matthew. He had always liked Uncle
William ... for he was his uncle, of course, and a kind man in spite of
his rough, quick ways and sharp words ... but Uncle Matthew had
commanded his love. There had been times when he almost disliked Uncle
William ... the times when Uncle William made fun of Uncle Matthew's
romantic talk. John would be sitting in front of the kitchen fire,
before the lamp was lit, listening while his Uncle Matthew told him
stories of high, romantical things, of adventures in aid of beautiful
women, and of life freely given for noble purposes, until he was
wrought up into an ecstasy of selflessness and longing ... and then
Uncle William would come into the kitchen from the shop, stumbling,
perhaps, in the dark, and swear because the lamp was not lit.
Once, after he had listened for a few moments to one of Uncle Matthew's
tales, he had laughed bitterly and said, "I declare to my good God, but
you'd be in a queer way, the whole pack of you, if I was to quit the
shop and run up and down the world looking for adventures and women in
distress. I tell you, the pair of you, it's a queer adventure taking
care of a shop and making it prosper and earning the keep of the house.
There's no lovely woman hiding behind the counter 'til the young lord
comes and delivers her, but by the Holy Smoke, there's a terrible lot
of hard work!"
It had seemed to John then, as he contemplated his Uncle Matthew's
doleful face and listened to his plaintive admission, "I know I'm no
help to you!" that his Uncle William was a cruel-hearted man, and in
his anger he could have struck him. But now, after the affair with
Willie Logan and the talk about Uncle Matthew, and remembering, too,
that Uncle William was always very gentle with Uncle Matthew, even
though his words were sometimes rough, he felt that his heart had ample
room inside it for this rough, bearded man who made so few demands on
the affection of his family, and deserved so much.
John knew that his Uncle William and his mother shared the common
belief that Uncle Matthew was "quare," but, although he had often
thought about the matter, he could not understand why people held this
opinion. It was true that Uncle Matthew had been dismissed from the
Ballyards National School, in which he had been an assistant teacher,
but when John considered the circumstances in which Uncle Matthew had
been dismissed, he felt satisfied that his uncle, so far from having
behaved foolishly, had behaved with great courage and chivalry. Uncle
Matthew, so the story went, had been in Belfast a few days after the
day on which Queen Victoria had died, and had stopped in Royal Avenue
for a few moments to read an advertisement which was exhibited in the
window of a haberdasher's shop. These are the words which he read in
* * * * *
* * * * *
MOURNING ORDERS PROMPTLY
* * * * *
When he had read through the advertisement twice, Uncle Matthew broke
the haberdasher's window!
He was seized by a policeman, and in due time was brought before the
magistrates who, in addition to fining him and compelling him to pay
for the damage he had done, caused the Resident Magistrate to admonish
him not merely for breaking the window and interfering with the
business of a respectable merchant, but also for offering a frivolous
excuse for his behaviour. Uncle Matthew had said that he broke the
window as a protest against a counterjumper's traffic in a nation's
grief. "I loved the Queen, sir," he said, "and I couldn't bear to see
her death treated like that!" This was more than the Magistrates could
endure, and the Resident Magistrate made an impatient gesture and said,
"Tch, tch, tch!" with his tongue against his palate. He went on to say
that Uncle Matthew's loyalty to the Throne was very touching, very
touching, indeed, especially in these days when a lot of people seemed
to have very little respect for the Royal Family. He thought that his
brother-magistrates would agree with him. ("Hear, hear!" and "Oh, yes,
yes!" and an "Ulster was always noted for its loyalty to the Queen!"
from his brother-magistrates.) But all the same, there had to be
moderation and reason in everything. It would never do if people were
to go about the country breaking other people's windows in the name of
patriotism. It was bad enough to have a pack of Nationalists and
Papists going about the country, singing disloyal songs and terrorising
peaceable, lawabiding loyalists, without members of respected
Protestant and Unionist families like the prisoner ... for Uncle
Matthew was in the dock of the Custody Court and had spent the night in
a cell ... imitating their behaviour in the name of loyalty. He had
taken into the consideration the fact that the prisoner had acted from
the best motives and not from any feeling of disaffection to the
Throne, and also the fact that he belongs to a respectable family, and
so he would not send him to gaol. He gave him the option of paying a
fine, together with costs and the bill for repairing the window, or of
going to prison for one calendar month; and he warned the public that
any other person who broke a window, however loyal he might be, would
be sent to gaol without the option of a fine.
Uncle Matthew had turned to where Uncle William was sitting with the
family solicitor in the well of the court, and Uncle William had nodded
his head comfortingly. Then the warder had opened the door in the side
of the dock, and Uncle Matthew had stepped out of the place of shame
into the company of the general public. The solicitor had attended to
the payment of the fine and the cost of repairing the fractured glass,
and then Uncle William had led Uncle Matthew away. Someone had tittered
at Uncle Matthew as they passed up the steps of the court towards the
door, and Uncle William, disregarding the fact that he was in a court
of law, had turned on him very fiercely, and had said "Damn your
sowl!..." but a policeman, saying "S-s-sh!", had bustled him out of the
court before he could complete his threat. And an old woman, with a
shawl happed about her head, had gazed after Uncle Matthew and said,
"The poor creature! Sure, he's not right!"
The arrest and trial of Uncle Matthew had created a great scandal in
Ballyards, and responsible people went about saying that he had always
been "quare" and was getting "quarer." Willie Logan's father had even
talked of the asylum. Whose windows, he demanded, were safe when, a
fellow like that was let loose on the town? Uncle William had gone to
see Mr. Logan ... no one knew quite what he said to that merchant ...
but it was evident ever after that he had accepted Uncle William's
advice to keep a civil tongue in his head. The Reverend Mr. McCaughan,
who was manager of the Ballyards National School, went specially to the
house of Mr. Cairnduff, the headmaster of the school, to consult him on
the subject. He said that something would have to be done about the
matter. The MacDermotts, he said, were a highly-respected family ... a
MacDermott had been an elder of the church for generations past... and
he would be very sorry, very sorry, indeed to do anything to upset
them, but it was neither right nor reasonable to expect parents to rest
content while their children were taught their lessons by a man who was
both queer in his manner and very nearly a criminal ... for after all,
he had spent a night in a prison-cell and had stood in the dock where
thieves and forgers and wife-beaters and even murderers had stood!
Mr. Cairnduff was in complete agreement with Mr. McCaughan. He, too,
had the greatest respect for the MacDermotts ... no man could help
having respect for them ... and he might add that he had the greatest
possible respect for Matthew MacDermott himself ... a well-read and a
kindly man, though a wee bit, just a _wee_ bit unbalanced
"Aye, but it's that wee bit that makes all the difference, Mr.
Cairnduff!" said the minister, interrupting the schoolmaster.
"It is," Mr. Cairnduff agreed. "You're right there, Mr. McCaughan. You
are, indeed. All the same, though, I would not like to be a party to
anything that would hurt the feelings of a MacDermott, and if it could
be arranged in some way that Matthew should retire from the profession
through ill-health or something, with a wee bit of a pension, mebbe, to
take the bad look off the thing... well, I for one would not be against
"You've taken the words out of my mouth," said the minister. "I had it
in my mind that if something of the kind could be arranged!..."
"It would be the best for all concerned," said Mr. Cairnduff.
But it had not been possible to arrange something of the kind. The
member for the Division was not willing to use his influence with the
National Board of Education in Uncle Matthew's behalf. He remembered
that Uncle Matthew, during an election, had interrupted him in a
recital of his services to the Queen, by a reminder that he was only a
militia man, and that rough, irreverent lads, who treated an election
as an opportunity for skylarking instead of improving their minds, had
followed him about his constituency, jeering at him for "a mileeshy
man." Uncle Matthew, too, had publicly declared that Parnell was the
greatest man that had ever lived in Ireland and was worth more than the
whole of the Ulster Unionist members of parliament put together...
which was, of course, very queer doctrine to come from a member of an
Ulster Unionist and Protestant family. The member for the Division
could not agree with Mr. McCaughan and Mr. Cairnduff that the
MacDermotts were a bulwark of the Constitution. Matthew MacDermott's
brother... the one who was dead... had been a queer sort of a fellow.
Lady Castlederry had complained of him more than once!... No, he was
sorry that, much as he should like to oblige Mr. McCaughan and Mr.
Cairnduff, he could not consent to use his influence to get the Board
to pension Matthew MacDermott....
"That man's a blether!" said the minister, as he and the schoolmaster
came away from the member's house. "He won't use his influence with the
Board because he hasn't got any. We'd have done better, mebbe, to go to
a Nationalist M.P. Those fellows have more power in their wee fingers
than our men have in their whole bodies. I wonder, now, could we
persuade Matthew to send in his resignation. I can't bear to think of
the Board dismissing him!"
Uncle William solved their problem for them. "Don't bother your heads
about him," he said when they informed him of their trouble. "I'll
provide for him right enough. He'll send in his resignation to you the
night, Mr. McCaughan. I'm sure, we're all queer and obliged to you for
the trouble you have taken in the matter."
"Ah, not at all, not at all," they said together.
"And I'll not forget it to either of you, you can depend on that. I
daresay Matthew'll be a help to me in the shop!..."
Thus it was that, unpensioned and in the shadow of disgrace, Uncle
Matthew left the service of the National Board of Education.
John admitted to himself, though he would hardly have admitted it to
anyone else, that his Uncle Matthew's behaviour had been very unusual.
He could not, when invited to do so, imagine either Mr. McCaughan or
Mr. Cairnduff breaking the windows of a haberdasher's shop because of
an advertisement which showed, in the opinion of some reputable people,
both feeling and enterprise. Nevertheless, he did not consider that
Uncle Matthew, on that occasion, had proved himself to be lacking in
mental balance. He said that it was a pity that people were not more
ready than they were to break windows, and he was inclined to think
that Uncle Matthew, instead of being forcibly retired from the school,
ought to have been promoted to a better position.
"If you go on talking that way," his mother said to him, "people'll
think you're demented mad!"
"I wouldn't change my Uncle Matthew for the whole world," John stoutly
"No one's asking you to change him," Mrs. MacDermott retorted. "All
we're asking you to do, is not to go about imitating him with his
John did not wish to imitate his Uncle Matthew ... he did not wish to
imitate anyone ... for, although he could not discover that "quareness"
in him which other people professed to discover, yet when he saw how
inactive Uncle Matthew was, how dependent he was on Uncle William and,
to a less extent, on Mrs. MacDermott, and how he seemed to shrink from
things in life, which, when he read about them in books, enthralled
him, John felt that if he were to model his behaviour on that of anyone
else, it must not be on the behaviour of Uncle Matthew. Uncle William
had a quick, decided manner ... he knew exactly what he wanted and
often contrived to get what he wanted. John remembered that his Uncle
William had said to him once, "John, boy, if I want a thing and I can't
get it, I give up wanting it!"
"But you can't help wanting things, Uncle William," John had protested.
"No, boy, you can't" Uncle William had retorted, "but the Almighty
God's given you the sense to understand the difference between wanting
things you can get and wanting things you can't get, and He leaves it
to you to use your sense. Do you never suppose that I want something
strange and wonderful to happen to me the same as your Uncle Matthew
there, that sits dreaming half the day over books? What would become of
you all, your ma and your Uncle Matthew and you, if I was to do the
like of that I? Where would your Uncle Matthew get the money to buy
books to dream over if it wasn't for me giving up my dreams?..."
John's heart had suddenly filled with pity for his Uncle William whom
he saw as a thwarted man, an angel expelled from heaven, reduced from a
proud position in a splendid society to the dull work of one who
maintains others by small, but prolonged, efforts. He felt ashamed of
himself and of Uncle Matthew ... even, for a few moments, of his
mother. Here was Uncle William, working from dawn until dark, denying
himself this pleasure and that, refusing to go to the "shore" with them
in the summer on the assertion that he was a strong man and did not
need holidays ... doing all this in order that he might maintain three
people in comfort and ... yes, idleness! Mrs. MacDermott might be
excluded from the latter charge, for she attended to the house and the
cooking, but how could Uncle Matthew and himself expect to escape from
it? Uncle Matthew had more hope than he had, for Uncle Matthew
sometimes balanced the books for Uncle William, and did odds and ends
about the shop. He would write out the accounts in a very neat hand and
would deliver them, too. But John made no efforts at all. He was the
complete idler, living on his Uncle's bounty, and making no return for
He was now in his second year of monitorship at the school where his
Uncle Matthew had been a teacher, and was in receipt of a few pounds
per annum to indicate that he was more than a pupil; but the few pounds
were insufficient to maintain him ... he knew that ... and even if they
had been sufficient, he was well aware of the fact that his Uncle
William had insisted that the whole of his salary should be placed in
the Post Office Savings Bank for use when he had reached manhood.... He
made a swift resolve, when this consciousness came upon him: he would
quit the school and enter the business, so that he could be of help to
his Uncle William.
"Will you let me leave the school, Uncle?" he said. "I'm tired of the
teaching, and I'd like well to go into the shop with you!"
Uncle William did not answer for a little while. He was adding up a
column of figures in the day-book, and John could hear him counting
quietly to himself. "And six makes fifty-four... six and carry four!"
he said entering the figures in pencil at the foot of the column.
"What's that you say, John, boy?"
"I want to leave school and come into the shop and help you," John
"God love you, son, what put that notion into your head?"
"I don't want to be a burden to you, Uncle William!"
"A burden to me!" Uncle William swung round on the high office stool
and regarded his nephew intently. "Man, dear, you're no burden to me!
Look at the strength of me! Feel them muscles, will you?" He held out
his tightened arm as he spoke. "Do you think a wee fellow like you
could be a burden to a man with muscles like them, as hard as iron?"
But John was not to be put off by talk of that sort. "You know rightly
what I mean," he said. "You never get no rest at all, and here's me
still at the school!..."
"Ah, wheesht with you, boy!" Uncle William interrupted. "What sort of
talk is this? You will not leave the school, young man! The learning
you're getting will do you a world of benefit, even if you never go on
with the teachering. You're a lucky wee lad, so you are, to be getting
paid to go to school. There was no free learning when I was a child, I
can tell you. Your grandda had to pay heavy for your da and your Uncle
Matthew and me. Every Monday morning, we had to carry our fees to the
master. Aye, and bring money for coal in the winter or else carry a few
sods of turf with us if we hadn't the money for it. That was what
children had to do when I was your age, John. I tell you there's a
queer differs these times between schooling from what there was when I
was a scholar, and you'd be the great gumph if you didn't take
advantage of your good fortune!"
"But I'd like to _help_ you, Uncle William. Do you not understand
me? I want to be doing something for you!" John insisted.
"I understand you well enough, son. You've been moidhering your mind
about me, but sure there's no call for you to do that. No call at all!
Now, not another word out of your head! I've said my say on that
subject, and I'll say no more. Go on with your learning, and when
you've had your fill of it, we'll see what's to be done with you. How
much is twelve and nine?"
"Twenty-one, Uncle William!"
"Twenty-one!" said Uncle William, at his day-book again. "Nine and
In this way Uncle William settled John's offer to serve in the shop,
and restored learning and literature to his affection and esteem. John
had not given in so easily as the reader may imagine. He had insisted
that his Uncle William worked much too hard, had even hinted that Uncle
Matthew spent more time over books than he spent over "_the_
books," the day-book and the ledger; but his Uncle William had firmly
"Books are of more account to your Uncle Matthew than an oul' ledger
any day," he said, "and it'll never be said that I prevented him from
reading them. We all get our happiness in different ways, John, and it
would be a poor thing to prevent a man from getting his happiness in
his way just because it didn't happen to be your way. Books are your
Uncle Matthew's heart's-idol, and I wouldn't stop him from them for the
"But he does nothing, Uncle William," John said, intent on justice,
even when it reflected on his beloved Uncle.
"I know, but sure the heart was taken out of him that time when he was
arrested for breaking the man's window. It was a terrible shock to him,
that, and he never overed it. You must just let things go on as they're
going. I don't believe you'll foe content to be a teacher. Not for one
minute do I believe that. But whatever you turn out to be, it'll be no
harm to have had the extra schooling you're getting, so you'll stay on
a monitor for a while longer. And now quit talking, do, or you'll have
me deafened with your clatter!"
Uncle William always put down attempts to combat his will by
assertions of that sort.
"Are you angry with me, Uncle William?" John anxiously asked.
"Angry with you, son?" He swung round again on the high stool. "Come
here 'til I show you whether I am or not!"
And then Uncle William gathered him up in his arms and crushed the
boy's face into his beard. "God love you, John," he said, "how could I
be angry with you, and you your da's son!"
"I love you queer and well, Uncle," John murmured shyly.
"Do you, son? I'm glad to hear that."
"Aye. And I love my Uncle Matthew, too!..."
"That's right. Always love your Uncle Matthew whatever you do or
whatever happens. He's a man that has more need of love nor most of us.
Your da loved him well, John!"
"Aye, he did, indeed!" Uncle William put his pen down on the desk, and
leaning against the ledger, rested his head in the cup of his hand.
"Your da was a strange man, John," he said, "a queer, strange man, with
a powerful amount of knowledge in his head. That man could write Latin
and Greek and French and German, and he was the first man in Ballyards
to write the Irish language ... and them was the days when people said
Irish was a Papist language, and would have nothing to do with it. Your
da never paid no heed to anyone... he just did what he wanted to do, no
matter what anyone said or who was against him. Many's the time I've
heard him give the minister his answer, and the high-up people, too.
When Lord Castlederry came bouncing into the town, ordering people to
do this or to do that, just because the Queen's grandson was coming to
the place, your da stood up fornenst him and said, as bold as brass,
'The people of this town are not Englishmen, my lord, to be ordered
about like dogs! They're Ballyards men, and a Ballyards man never bent
the knee to no one!' That was what your da said to him, and Lord
Castlederry never forgot it and never forgave it neither, but he could
do no harm to us, for the MacDermotts owned land and houses in
Ballyards before ever a Castlederry put his foot in the place. He was a
proud man your da, with a terrible quick temper, but as kindly-natured
a man as ever drew breath. Your ma thinks long for him many's a time,
though I think there were whiles he frightened her. Your Uncle Matthew
and me is poor company for her after living with a man like that."
"Am I like my da, Uncle William! My ma says sometimes I am ... when
she's angry with me!"
"Sometimes you're like him and sometimes you're like her. You'll be a
great fellow, John, if you turn out to be like your da. I tell you,
boy, he was a man, and there's few men these times ... only a lot of
oul' Jinny-joes, stroking their beards and looking terrible wise over
"And then he died, Uncle William!"
"Aye, son, he died. You were just two years old when he died, a little,
wee child just able to walk and talk. I mind it well. He called me into
the bedroom where he was lying, and he bid the others leave me alone
with him. Your ma didn't want to go, but he wouldn't let her stay, and
so she went, too. 'William,' he said, when the door was shut behind
them, 'I depend on you to look after them all!' Them was his very
words, John, 'I depend on you to look after them all!' I couldn't
answer him, so I just nodded my head. He didn't say anything more for a
wee while, but lay back in the bed and breathed hard, for he was in
pain, and couldn't breathe easy. Then, after a wee while, he looked
round at me, and he said, 'I'm only thirty-one, William, and I'm dying.
And oul' Peter Clancy up the street, that's been away in the head since
he was a child, is over sixty years of age!... I thought he was going
to spring out of the bed when he said that, the temper come over him so
quick and sudden, but I held him down and begged him to control
himself, and he quietened himself. I heard him saying, half under his
breath, 'And God thinks He knows how to rule the world!' He died that
night, rebellious to the end!... He said he depended on me to look
after you all, and I've tried hard, John, as hard as I could!"
His voice quavered, and he turned away from his nephew. "Your da was my
hero," he said. "I'd have shed my heart's blood for him. It was hard
that him that was the best of us should be the first to go!"
John stood by his uncle's side, very moved by his distress, but not
knowing what to do to comfort him.
"My da would be queer and proud of you, Uncle William," he said at
last, "queer and proud if he could see you!"
But Uncle William did not answer nor did he look round.
It was understood, after that conversation between John and his Uncle
William, that the boy should remain at school for a year or two longer,
working as a monitor, not in order that he might become a schoolmaster,
but so that he might equip his mind with knowledge. Mrs. MacDermott
wished her son to become a minister. It would be the proudest day of
her life, she said, if she could see John standing in a pulpit,
preaching a sermon. Who knew but that he might be one day be the
minister of the Ballyards First Presbyterian Church itself, the very
church in which his family had worshipped their God for generations.
John, however, had no wish to be a minister.
"You have to be queer and good to be one," he said, "and I'm not as
good as all that!"
"Well, mebbe, you'll get better as you get older," Mrs. MacDermott
"I might get worse," he replied. "It would be a fearful thing to be a
minister, and then find out you wanted to commit a sin!"
"Ministers is like ourselves, John," Mrs. MacDermott said, "and I
daresay Mr. McCaughan sometimes wants to do wicked things, for all he's
such a good man, and has to pray to God many's a while for the strength
to resist temptation. That doesn't prove he's not fit to be a minister.
It only shows he understands our nature all the more because he has
But John would not be convinced by her arguments. "I don't know, ma!"
he said. "If I wanted to be wicked, I'm afraid I'd be it, so don't ask
me to be a minister for I'd mebbe disgrace you with my carryings-on!"
Mrs. MacDermott had been deeply hurt by his refusal to consider the
"Anybody'd think to hear you," she said, "that you'd made up your mind
to lead a sinful life. As if a MacDermott couldn't conquer his sins
better nor anybody else!"
His mother, he often observed, spoke more boastfully of the MacDermotts
than either his Uncle William or his Uncle Matthew.
John's final, overwhelming retort to her was this: "Would my da have
liked me to be a minister?"
"I never knew what your da liked," she retorted; "I only knew what he
"Do you think he would have liked me to be a minister?" John persisted.
"Mebbe he wouldn't, but he's not here now!..."
"You wouldn't do behind his back what you'd be afraid to do fornenst
his face, would you?"
"You've no right to talk to me that way. I'm your mother!..."
"You knew rightly he wouldn't have liked it," John continued,
And then Mrs. MacDermott yielded.
"You're your da over again," she complained. "He always had his way in
the end, whatever was against him. What _do_ you want to be, then,
when you grow up?"
"I don't know yet, ma. I only know the things I don't want to be, and
teaching is one of them. And a minister's another! Mebbe I'll know in a
He did not like to tell her that in his heart he wished to go in search
of adventures. His Uncle Matthew's imaginings had filled his mind with
romantic desires, and he longed to leave Ballyards and go somewhere ...
anywhere, so long as it was a difficult and distant place ... where he
would have to contend with dangers. There were times when he felt that
he must instantly pack a bundle of clothes into a red handkerchief ...
he could buy one at Conn's, the draper's ... and run away from home and
stow himself in the hold of a big ship bound for America or Australia
or some place like that ... and was only prevented from doing so by his
fear that his mother and uncles would be deeply grieved by his flight.
"It would look as if they hadn't been kind to me," he said in
remonstrance to himself, "and that wouldn't be fair to them!" But
although he did not run away from home, he still kept the strong desire
in his heart to go out into a dangerous and bewildering world and seek
fortune and adventures. "I want to fight things," he said to himself.
"I want to fight things and, ... and win!"
Mixed up with his desire for adventure was a vision of a beautiful girl
to whom he should offer his love and service. He could not picture her
clearly to himself ... none of the girls in Ballyards bore the
slightest resemblance to her. Sometimes, indeed, he thought that this
beautiful girl was like Lady Castlederry ... only Lady Castlederry,
somehow, although she was so very lovely, had a cold stupid look in her
eyes, and he was very certain that this beautiful girl had bright,
There had been a passage of love-making between Aggie Logan and him,
conducted entirely by Aggie Logan. She had taken him aside one day, in
the middle of a game of "I spy," and had said to him "Will you court
"No," he had replied.
"Do you not love me then?" she enquired.
"No," he said again.
"But I want you to court me," she persisted.
"I don't care what you want," he retorted. "I won't court you because I
don't want to court you. I don't like you. You're too much of a girner
"I'm not a girner," she protested.
"You are. You start crying the minute anything happens to you or if
people won't do what you want them to do. I wouldn't marry a girner for
the wide world!"
"I won't girn any more if you'll court me," she promised.
"I daresay," he replied skeptically.
She considered for a moment or two. "Well, if you won't court me," she
said, "I'll let Andy Cairnduff court me!"
"He can have you," said John, undismayed by the prospect of the
schoolmaster's son as a rival.
She stood before him for a little while, without speaking. Then she
turned and walked a little distance from him. She stopped, with her
back turned towards him, and he knew by the way her head was bent, that
she was thinking out a way of retaliating on him. The end of her
pinafore was in her mouth!... She turned to him sharply, letting the
pinafore fall from her lips, and pointing at him with her finger, she
began to laugh shrilly.
"Ha, ha, ha!" she said. "I have you quarely gunked!"
"Gunked!" he exclaimed, unable to see how he had been hoaxed.
"Yes," she answered. "I gunked you nicely. You thought I wanted you to
court me, but I was only having you on. Ha, ha, ha!"
He burst out laughing. "I that consoles you," he said; "you're welcome
Then she ran away and would not play "I spy" or "Tig" any more.
He had not told his mother of that passage of love with Aggie Logan. It
did not occur to him to tell anything to his mother. His instinct,
indeed, was not to tell things to her, to conceal them from her.
If anyone had said to him that he did not love his mother as much as he
loved his Uncle Matthew and his Uncle William, he would have been very
angry. Not love his mother more than anyone else on earth!... Only a
blow could make a proper answer to such a charge. Nevertheless his
mother was associated in his mind with acts of repression, with
forbidding and restraint. She seemed always to be telling him not to do
things. When he wanted to go to the Lough with Willie Logan to play
Robinson Crusoe and his Man Friday or to light a bonfire in Teeshie
McBratney's field with shavings from Galpin's mill in the pretence that
he was a Red Indian preparing for a war-dance, it was his mother who
said that he was not to do it. He might fall into the water and get
drowned, she said, or, he might fall into the fire and get roasted to
death. As if he were not capable of controlling a raft or a bonfire!...
He felt, too, that sometimes she punished him unjustly. When the Logans
and he had played Buffalo Bill and the Red Indians attacking the
defenceless pale-face woman, he had had a fierce argument with Willie
Logan about the part of Buffalo Bill. Willie, being older, had claimed
the part for himself, and, when denied the right to it, had declared
that neither Aggie nor he would play in the game. Then a compromise had
been arranged: Willie was allowed to play the part of Buffalo Bill and
to slay the Red Indian on condition that John, before being slain,
should be allowed to scalp the helpless pale-face woman. He scalped her
so severely, by tugging tightly at her long hair, that she began to
cry, and Willie, more conscious of the fact that he was Aggie's brother
than that he was Buffalo Bill, bore down upon John and gave him his
"cowardy-blow." They fought a fierce and bitter fight, and in the end,
Willie went home with a bleeding nose, and John went home with a black
Willie had not played the man over that affair. He went to his mother
and complained of John's selfish and brutal behaviour, alleging that he
had suffered terrible punishment in a chivalrous effort to protect his
sister from ruffianly assault; and his mother, a thin, acidulous woman,
whose voice was half snarl and half whine, carried her son's complaint
to Mrs. MacDermott.
Mrs. MacDermott had not stopped to enquire into the truth of the charge
against John beyond asking if it were true that he had pulled Aggie
Logan's hair and fought with Willie Logan. John had replied "Yes, ma!"
That was sufficient for Mrs. MacDermott, that and the testimony of
John's discoloured eye, and she had beaten him with the leather tawse
that was kept hanging from a nail at the side of the fireplace. "That
my son should do the like of that!" she said over and over again until
a cold fury of resentment against her had formed in his heart. It was
true that he had pulled Aggie's hair much harder than he ought to have
done, but he had not intended to hurt her. What he had done, had been
done, not out of malice, but in the excitement of the game; and it was
not fair to beat him so severely for so little a thing as that. He
would not cry ... he would not give his mother the satisfaction of
hearing him cry, although the lashing he was receiving was hurting his
bare pelt very sorely. She could keep on saying, "That my son should do
the like of that!" but he would not mind her....
Then, as if she understood his thoughts and perceived that he was
unmoved by her outraged feelings, she had changed her complaint against
him. Glancing up at the portrait of her husband which was hanging over
the fireplace, she said, "That your father's son should do the like of
that!" Compunction came to him then. He, too, looked up at the portrait
of his father, and suddenly he wanted to cry. The pale face, made more
pale in appearance by the thick, black beard, and having the faded look
which photographs of the dead seem always to have, appeared to him to
be alive and full of reproach, and the big burning eyes, aflame, they
looked, with the consuming thing that took his life, had anger in them,
anger against him!...
He had not any regret for hurting Aggie Logan ... he did not believe
that he had hurt her any more severely than was necessary for the
purposes of the game, and even if he had hurt her, she ought to have
borne it as part of the pretence ... he did not care whether he had
hurt her or not, for she was a "cry-ba" at all times, ready to "girn"
at anything ... but he had sorrow at the thought that he had done
something of which his father might have disapproved. Mrs. MacDermott,
with that penetration which is part of the nature of people who are
accustomed to yield to stronger personalities had discovered that she
could win John to her obedience by reminding him of his father; and she
used her power without pity. "What would your father think of you, if
he knew!" she would say.
She was not a hard or a cruel woman ... she was very kind and loved her
son with a long clutching love ... but her life with her husband had
contained so many disturbances of comfortable courses, thrilling enough
at the time, but terrifying when viewed in retrospect, that her nature,
inclined to quiet, fixed ways and to acceptance, with slight
resistance, of whatever came to her, made all the efforts that were
possible to it to keep her life and her son's life in peace. She hated
change of any sort, whether of circumstances or of friends, and she
loved old, familiar things. The tradition of the MacDermotts, their
life in one place for generations and the respect with which they were
greeted by their townsmen, gave immense pleasure to her, and her
dearest dream was that John should continue in the place where his
forefathers had lived, and that his son and his son's son should
continue there, too!
And so it was that she was always telling John not to do things. She
loathed Uncle Matthew's romances and his talk of adventures in foreign
parts, and she insisted that he was "away in the mind" when her son
spoke of him to her. She tried to make the boy walk inconspicuously, to
keep, always, in the background, to do only those things that were
generally approved of. His quick temper, his haste with his fists, his
habit of contradicting even those who were older than he was, his
unwillingness to admit that he was in the wrong ... all these disturbed
and frightened her. They would lead him into disputes and set him up in
opposition to other people. His delight in the story of his father's
encounter with Lord Castlederry troubled her, and she tried to convince
her son that Lord Castlederry was a well-meaning man, but, as she knew,
without success. She had delighted in her husband's great courage and
self-sufficiency, his sureness, his strong decision and his
unconquerable pride and independence ... but now, in contemplation,
these things frightened her ... she wondered sometimes why it was that
they had not frightened her in his lifetime ... and the thought that
she might have to live again in contention and opposition roused all
her strength to resist that fate. She had lived down much of the
dislike that her husband had aroused. It was not necessary now to
pretend that she did not see people, that she might escape from the
mortification of being stared at, without a sign of recognition; and
she would not lightly yield up her comfortable situation. If only she
could only persuade John to become a minister! There was nothing in
that to frighten her: there was everything to make her feel content and
When she took John to Belfast, she made the holiday, so eagerly
anticipated, a mortification to him. While they were in the train, she
would tell him not to climb on to the seat of the carriage to look out
of the window at the telegraph-poles flying past and the telegraph-wires
rising and falling like birds ... she would tell him not to stand
at the door in case it should fly open and he should fall out and be
killed ... she would tell him, when the train reached the terminus in
Belfast, to take tight hold of her hand and not to budge from her
side ... she would refuse to cross the Lagan in the steam ferry-boat and
insist on going round by tram-car across the Queen's Bridge ... she
would tell him not to wander about in Forster Green's when he edged
away from her to look at the coffee-mills in which the richly-smelling
berries were being roasted. When she took him to Linden's to tea ...
Linden's which made cakes for the Queen and had the Royal Arms over the
door of the shop! ... she spoiled the treat for him by refusing to let
him sit on one of the stools at the counter and eat his "cookies" like
a man: she made him sit by her side at a table ... an ordinary table
such as anyone could sit on anywhere ... at home, even!
His Uncle William had taken him up to Belfast one market-day, and that
Friday was made memorable to him forever because his Uncle had said to
him, "Well, boy, what would you like to do?" and had consented, without
demur, to cross the Lagan in the ferry-boat. Uncle William had not
clutched at him all the time in fear lest he should fall into the river
and be drowned, and had allowed him to stand at the end of the boat and
watch the swirl of the water against the ferry-steps when they reached
the Antrim side. He had said to him, too, "I've a wee bit of business
to attend to, boy, that'll not interest you much. Would you like to
stay here in the market for an hour by yourself while I go and do it?"
Would he like?...
And not one word about taking great care of himself or of not doing
this or doing that ... of keeping away from the horse-fair, and not
going too near the cattle. Uncle William trusted him, took it for
granted that he was capable of looking after himself....
"Very well, then," Uncle William said, "I'll meet you here in an hour's
time. No later, mind you, for I've a deal to do the day!"
And for a whole hour, John had wandered about the market, not holding
anyone's hand and free to go wherever he liked! He had walked through
the old market where the horses were bought and sold ... had even
stroked a mare's muzzle while some men bargained over it ... and then
had crossed the road to the new market where he smelt the odour of
flowers and fruit and listened to the country-women chaffering over
their butter and eggs. He spent a penny without direction!... He bought
a large, rosy American apple ... without being asked whether he would
like to have that or an orange, or being told that he could not have an
orange, but must have an apple because an apple in the morning was good
When he told his mother that night of the splendid time he had had by
himself, she said, "You might have lost yourself!..." That chilled him,
and he did not tell her of the gallant way in which he had rubbed his
hand on a horse's side. He knew very well that she would say, "It might
have kicked you!..."
It was she who was most particular about the dyeing of his Easter eggs
and the ritual of hanging up his stocking on Christmas Eve. She had
wanted to go on dyeing eggs for him at Easter and hanging up his
stocking on Christmas Eve, even when he was twelve years of age and
could not be expected to tolerate such things any longer. He liked the
Easter ceremonial better, perhaps, than that of Christmas. His mother
would bid Uncle Matthew take him out of the town to the fields to
gather whin-blossoms so that she could dye the eggs to a pretty brown
colour. Tea-leaves could be used to dye the eggs to a deeper brown than
that of the whin-blossoms, but there was not so much pleasure in taking
tea-leaves from the caddy as there was in plucking whin-blossoms from
the furze-bushes. The Logans bought their Easter eggs, already dyed,
from old Mrs. Dobbs, the dulce-woman, but John disliked the look of her
eggs, apart from the fact that his mother would not permit him to buy
them. Mrs. Dobbs used some artificial dyes which stained the eggshells
a horrible purple or a less horrible red, and John had a feeling of
sickness when he looked at them. Mrs. MacDermott said that if the eggs
were to crack during the process of boiling, the dye would penetrate
the meat and might poison anyone who ate it; and even if the shells
remained uncracked, the dye would soil the fingers and perhaps soil the
clothes. She wondered at Mrs. Logan!...
And on Easter Monday, she and Uncle Matthew and Uncle William would go
to Bryson's field where there was a low mound covered with short grass,
and from the top of this mound, he would trundle his Easter egg down
the slope to the level ground until the shell was broken. Then he would
sit beside his mother and uncles, and eat the hard-boiled meat of the
egg while Uncle Matthew explained to him that he was celebrating an
ancient Druidical rite.
But he loved his mother very dearly when she came to him at night to
put him to bed and listen to his prayers. He would kneel down in front
of her, in the warmth of the kitchen so that he might not catch cold in
the unheated bedroom, and would shut his eyes very tightly because God
did not like to see little boys peeping through their distended fingers
at Him, and would say his verse:
I lay my body down to sleep....
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
And if I die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
and having said that, he would add a general prayer for his family.
"God bless my Mother" ... he always said _"Mother"_ in his
prayers, although he said _"Ma"_ in ordinary talk ... "and my
Uncle William and my Uncle Matthew and all my friends and relations,
and make me a good boy for Jesus' sake, Amen. Our Father which art...."
Then he would scamper up the stairs to bed, and his mother would hap
the clothes about him and tell him to go to sleep soon. She would bend
over him and kiss him very tightly, and he would put his arms about
her, too. "Son, dear!" she would say.
THE SECOND CHAPTER
When John MacDermott was seventeen years of age and entering into his
fourth year of monitorship, his Uncle William said to him, "John, boy,
you're getting on to be a man now, and it's high time you began to
think of what you're going to do with yourself when you are one!"
"You're mebbe right," said John.
"The next year'll be your last one at the monitoring, won't it?" Uncle
John nodded his head.
"Well, if I were you I'd make a plan of some sort during the next year
or two, for it would never do for you to come to the years of
discretion, and have to take to the teachering because you couldn't
think of anything else to do. I can see well your heart's not in that
"It is not, indeed!" John said vigorously. "It's a terrible tiring job,
teaching children, and some of them are that stupid you feel provoked
enough to slap the hands off them! I'm nearly afraid of myself
sometimes with the stupid ones, for fear I'd lose my temper with them
and hurt them hard. Mr. Cairnduff says no one should be a teacher that
has a bad temper, and dear knows, Uncle William, I've a fearful temper!
He's a quare wise man, Mr. Cairnduff: he doesn't let any of his
monitors use the cane, for he says it's an awful temptation to be
cruel, especially if you're young and impatient the way I am!"
"Is that so now?" said Uncle William.
"Oh, it is, right enough. I know well there's times when a child's
provoked me, that I want to be cruel to it ... and I'd hate to be cruel
to any child. There's a wee girl in my class now.... Lizzie Turley's
"John Turley's child?"
"Yes. God knows she's the stupidest child in the world!"
"Her da's a match, for her, then, for he's the stupidest man I've ever
known. That fellow ought not to have been let have children!..."
"It's not her fault, I know," John continued, "but you forget that when
you're provoked. I've tried hard to teach that child ... vowed to
myself I'd teach her ... to add up, but I'm afraid she's beaten me. She
can subtract well enough ... that's the queer part about her ... but
she cannot add up. You'll mebbe not believe me. Uncle William, but that
child can't put two and one together and be sure of getting the right
answer. At first she couldn't add two and one together at all. She'd
put down twelve for the answer as likely as not. But I worked hard with
her, and I got her to add up to two and six make eight ... and there
she stuck. I couldn't get her past that: she couldn't add two and seven
together and get nine for the answer. But if you asked her to subtract
two from nine, she'd say "seven" all right! That's a queer thing, now!
"Aye, it's queer enough!"
"There's been times when I've wanted to hit that wee girl ... hit her
with my shut fists ... and I don't like to feel that way about a child
that's not all there ... or any child! I'm afraid I'm not fit to be a
teacher, Uncle William. You have to be very good and patient... and
it's no use pretending you haven't. Mr. Cairnduff says it's more
important for a teacher to be good than it is for a minister, and he's
right, too. He says a child should never be slapped by the teacher
that's offended with it, but by another teacher that knows nothing
about the bother. He doesn't use the cane much himself, but there's
some teachers likes using it. Miss Gebbie does... she carries a big
bamboo about with her, and gives you a good hard welt across the hand
with it, if you annoy her. I wouldn't like to be in that woman's grip,
I can tell you. Some women are fearful hard, Uncle William!"
"Worse nor men, some of them," Uncle William agreed.
"Mr. Cairnduff told me one time of a teacher he knew that got to like
the cane so much that he used to try and trip the children into making
mistakes so's he could slap them for it. Isn't it fearful, that?"
"I'd be ashamed to death if I got that way. Oh, I couldn't go on with
the teaching, Uncle William. I wouldn't be near fit for it."
"Well, never mind, John. There's one thing, the extra schooling you've
had has done you no harm, and I daresay it's done you a lot of good.
But you'll have to think of something to do!..."
"Yes, I will!"
"Do you never think of anything? Is there any particular thing you'd
like to do?"
"There's a whole lot of things I've fancied I'd like to be, but after a
wee while I always change my mind. The first time I went to Belfast, I
thought it would be lovely to be a tram-driver 'til I saw a navvy
tearing up the street ... and then I thought a navvy had the best job
in the world. You know, Uncle William, it takes me a long while to find
out what it is I want, but when I do find it out, I take to it queer
and quick. I'll mebbe go footering about the world like a lost thing,
and then all of a sudden I'll know what I want to do ... and I'll just
"Hmmm!" said Uncle William.
"It sounds queer and foolish, doesn't it?"
"Oh, I don't know, John. Many's a thing sounds silly, but isn't."
"It's true, anyway. I've noticed things like that about myself.
It's ... it's like a man getting converted. One minute he's a guilty,
hell-deserving sinner, the way John Hutton says he was, footering about
the world, drinking and guzzling and leading a rotten life ... and then
all of a sudden, he's hauled up and made to give his testimony and do
God's will for the rest of his life! I daresay I'll drift from one thing
to another ... and then I'll know, just like a flash of lightning ... and
I'll go and do it!"
"That's a dangerous kind of a doctrine," said Uncle William. "It's
easier to get into the way of drifting nor it is to get out of it
again. And you're a young lad to be thinking strange thoughts like
"I'm seventeen," John replied. "That's not young!"
"It's not oul' anyway. Anybody'd think to hear you, you had the years
of Methuselah. I suppose, now, you never thought of coming into the
"I did think of it one time, but you wouldn't let me!..."
"That was when you wanted to help me. But did you never think of it for
your own sake? You see, John, you're the last of us, and this shop has
been in our family for a long while ... it's a good trade, too, and
you'll have no fear of hardship as long as you look after it, although
the big firms in Belfast are opening branches here. The MacDermotts can
hold their heads up against any big firm in the world, I'm thinking ...
in this place, anyway. Did you never feel you'd like to come into the
John glanced about the shop, at the assistants who were serving
customers with tea and groceries....
"No," he said, shaking his head, "I don't think I'd like it!"
Uncle William considered for a few moments. Then he said, "No, I
thought you wouldn't care for it. Your da felt that way too. The shop
wasn't big enough for him. All the same, there has to be shops, and
there has to be people to look after that!"
"Oh, I know that right enough, Uncle William. I'm not saying anything
against them. They're all right for them that likes them!..."
He paused for a while, and his Uncle waited for him to proceed.
"Sometimes," he said at last, "I'm near in the mind to go and be a
"For dear sake!" said Uncle William impatiently.
"Or a sailor. I went down to the Post Office once and got a bill about
"Well, I would think you were demented mad to go and do the like of
that," said Uncle William. "You might as well be a peeler!"
His mind turned now very frequently to the consideration of work other
than that of teaching. He made a mental catalogue of the things that
were immediately possible to him: teaching, the ministry of the
Presbyterian Church, the shop ... and ruled them all out of his list.
The thought of soldiering or of going to sea lingered in his mind for a
long time ... because he associated soldiering and sailoring with
travel in strange places ... but he abandoned that thought when he
balanced the tradition of his class against the Army, and Navy. All the
men of his acquaintance who had joined the Army or the Navy had done
so, either because they were in disgrace or because they were unhappy
at home. It was generally considered that in joining either of the
Services, they had brought shame upon their families, less, perhaps in
the case of the Navy than in the case of the Army. In any event, his
Uncle William's statement that a MacDermott could not endure to be
ordered about by any one settled his mind for him on that subject. He
would have to get his adventures in other ways. He might emigrate to
America. He had a cousin in New York and one in Chicago. He might go to
Canada or Australia or South Africa ... digging for gold or diamonds!
There was nothing in Ireland that attracted him ... all the desirable
things were in distant places. Farming in Canada or Australia had a
romantic attraction that was not to be found in farming in Ireland. He
had _seen_ farmers in Ireland ... and he did not wish to be like
But, no matter how much he considered the question, he came no nearer
to a solution of it.
He would go out to the fields that lay on the shores of the Lough,
going one day to this side, and another day to that, and lie down in
the sunshine and dream of a brilliant career. He might go into
parliament and become a great statesman, like that man, Lord Salisbury,
who had come to Belfast once during the Home Rule agitation. Or he
might turn Nationalist and divert himself by roaring in the House of
Commons against the English! He wished that he could write poetry ...
if he could write poetry, he might become famous. There was an old
exercise book at home, full of poems that he had made up when he was
much younger, about Ireland and the Pope and Love and Ballyards ... but
they were poor things, he knew, although Mr. Cairnduff, to whom he had
shown them, had said that, considering the age John was when he wrote
them, they might have been a great deal worse. Mr. Cairnduff had given
generous praise to a long poem on the election of a Nationalist for the
city of Derry, beginning with this wail:
_Oh, Derry, Derry, what have you done?
Sold your freedom to Home Rule's son!_
but neither Uncle William nor Uncle Matthew had had much to say for it.
Uncle William said that his father would not have liked to think of his
son writing a poem full of sentiments of that sort, and Uncle Matthew
went upstairs to the attic and brought down, a copy of _Romeo and
Juliet_ and presented it to him. But Mrs. MacDermott was pleased in
a queer way. She hoped he was not going to take up politics, but she
was glad that he was not a Home Ruler!
Sometimes, when he had been much younger than he now was ... John
always thought of himself as a man of great age ... he had resolved
that he would become a writer; but although he began many stories and
solemn books ... there was one called, _The Errors of Rome_ in
which the Papists were to be finally and conclusively exposed ... none
of them were ever finished. Then had come a phase of preaching. His
mother read the _Christian Herald_ every week, and John would get
a table cloth, and wrap it round himself to represent a surplice ...
for the Church of Ireland was more decorative than the Presbyterian
Church ... and deliver the sermons of Dr. Talmage and Mr. Spurgeon in a
loud sing-song voice that greatly delighted Mrs. MacDermott. That, too,
had passed, very swiftly indeed, because of the alarming discovery that
he was an atheist! He would never forget the sensation he had created
in school when he had suddenly turned to Willie Logan and said,
"Willie, I don't believe there's a God at all. It's all a catch!..."
Willie, partly out of fright, but chiefly because of his incorrigible
tendency to "clash," immediately reported him to Miss Gebbie, who had
been a teacher even then ... it seemed to him sometimes that Miss
Gebbie had always been a teacher and would never cease to be one ...
and she had converted him to a belief in God's existence at the point
of her bamboo....
Then came a time of mere dreaming of a future in which some beautiful
girl would capture all his mind and heart and service. He would rescue
her from a dire situation ... he would invent some wonderful thing that
would bring fame and fortune to him ... and he would offer all his fame
and fortune to her. His visions of this girl, constantly recurring,
prevented him from falling in love with any girl in Ballyards. When he
contrasted the girl of his dream with the girls he saw about him, he
could not understand how anyone could possibly love a Ballyards girl.
He would come away from the fields, pleased with his dreams, but still
as far from a solution of his problem as ever.
One evening, his Uncle William came into the kitchen where John was
reading _John Halifax, Gentleman_ to his mother.
"I ought to go to Belfast the morrow," he said, "but Saturday's an
awkward day for me. I was wondering whether to send John instead. He's
nothing to do on Saturdays, and it would be a great help to me!"
John closed the book, "Of course, I'll go, Uncle William!" he said.
Mrs. MacDermott coldly regarded them both. "You know rightly," she
said, "that I'm as busy on Saturday as you are, William. How can he go
up to Belfast when I can't go with him?"
"I never said nothing about you going with him," Uncle William
retorted. "He's well able to go by himself!" _"Go by himself!"_
Mrs. MacDermott almost shouted the words at her brother-in-law. "A lad
that never was out of the town by his lone in his life before!"
"He'll have to go by his lone some day, won't he? And he's a big lump
of a lad now, and well able to look after himself!"
"He'll not stir an inch from the door without me," Mrs. MacDermott
declared in a determined voice. "Think shame to yourself, William, to
be putting such thoughts into a lad's head ... suggesting that he
should be sent out in the world by himself at his age!..."
Uncle William shifted uneasily in his seat. "I'm not suggesting that he
should be sent out into the world," he said. "I'm only suggesting that
he should be sent to Belfast for the day!..."
"And what sort of a place is Belfast on a Saturday afternoon with a lot
of drunk footballers flying about? He will not go, William. You can
Uncle William made a gesture of impatience. "You know rightly,
Matthew's no good for a job of this sort!"
"Well, then, you'll have to go yourself. I'll keep an eye to the shop,
forby my own work!..."
John got up and put _John Halifax, Gentleman_ on the window-ledge.
"You needn't bother yourself, ma," he said. "I'm going to Belfast the
morrow. What is it you want me to do, Uncle William?"
Mrs. MacDermott stared at him for a moment, then she got up and hurried
out of the kitchen. They could hear her mounting the stairs, and then
they heard the sound of her bedroom door being violently slammed.
"Women are queer, John," said Uncle William, "but the queerest women of
all are the women that are mothers. Anybody'd think I was proposing to
send you to the bad place, and dear knows, Belfast's not that!"
"What's the job you want me to do?"
"Come into the shop and I'll tell you!"
John followed his Uncle into the shop and they sat down together in the
little Counting House.
"There's really nothing that a postcard couldn't do," Uncle William
said. "That was the excuse. I've been thinking about you, John, and I
thought it was a terrible pity you should never get out and about by
yourself a bit ... out of Ballyards, I mean ... to look round you. It's
no good to a lad to be always running about with his ma!"
"You're a terrible schemer, Uncle William," said John.
"Ah, g'long with you," his Uncle answered. "Here, pay heed to me now,
while I tell you. This is what I want you to do!..."
He showed a business letter to John and invited him to read it. Then he
explained the nature of the small commission he wished him to execute.
"It'll not take you long," he said, "and then you can look about
yourself in Belfast. You'll want a few coppers in your pocket!" He put
a coin into John's hand and then closed the lad's fingers over it.
"It's great value to go down the quays and have a look at the ships,"
he went on, "and mebbe you could get a look over the shipyard! ... And
perhaps when you're knocking about Belfast, you'll see something you'd
like to do!"
In this way, his Saturday trips to Belfast began. He found them much
less exhilarating then he had imagined they would be. He inspected the
City Hall in the company of a beadle and was informed, with great
preciseness, of the cost of the building and of the price paid to each
artist for the portraits of the Lord Mayors which were suspended from
the walls of the Council Chamber. The beadle seemed to think that the
portraits represented a waste of ratepayers' money, and he considered
that if the Corporation had given a contract to one artist for all the
pictures, a great reduction in price could have been obtained.... The
Museum and the Free Library depressed him, precisely in the way in
which Museums and Free Libraries always depress people; but he found
pleasure in the Botanic Gardens and the Ormeau Park. He devised an
excellent scheme of walking, which enabled him to go through the
Botanic Gardens, then, by side streets, to the Lagan, where a ferryman
rowed him across to the opposite bank and landed him in the Ormeau
Park. He would walk briskly through the Park, and then, when he had
emerged from it, would cross the Albert Bridge, hurry along the Sand
Quay, and stand at the Queen's Bridge to watch the crowds of workmen
hurrying home from the shipyards. He never tired of watching the
"Islandmen," grimy from their labour, as they passed over the bridge in
a thick, dusky stream to their homes. Thousands and thousands of men
and boys seemed to make an endless procession of shipbuilders,
designers and rivetters and heater-boys. But it never occurred to him
that there was something romantic in the enterprise and labours of
these men, that out of their energies, great ships grew and far lands
were brought near to each other. He liked to witness the dispersal of
the shipyard's energies, but he did not think of the miracle which
their assembled energies performed every day. By this narrow, shallow
river Lagan, a great company of men and boys and women met daily to
make the means whereby races reached out to each other; and their ships
sailed the seas of the world, carrying merchandise from one land to
another, binding the East to the West and the South to the North, and
making chains of friendship and kindliness between diverse peoples. It
was an adventure to sail in a ship, in John's mind, but he did not
know, had never thought or been told, that it is also an adventure to
build a ship. The pleasure which he found in watching the "Islandmen"
crossing the Queen's Bridge was not related to their work: it was found
in the spectacle of a great crowd. Any crowd passing over the Bridge
would have pleased John equally well....
But the crowd of "Islandmen" was soon dispersed; and John found that
there was very little to do in Belfast. He did not care for football
matches, he had no wish to enter the City Hall again, he could not walk
through the Botanic Gardens and the Ormeau Park all day long, and he
certainly did not wish to visit the Museum or the Free Library again.
He became tired of walking aimlessly about the streets. There was a wet
Saturday when, as he stood under the shelter of an awning in Royal
Avenue, he resolved that he would return to Ballyards by an early
train. "It's an awful town, this, on a wet day!" he said to himself,
unaware that any town in which a man is a stranger is unpleasant on a
wet day ... and sometimes on a fine day. "Somehow," he went on, "there
seems to be more to do in Ballyards on a wet day than there is in
Belfast on a wet day!" A sense of loneliness descended upon him as
he gazed at the grey, dribbling skies and the damp pavements. The
trams were full of moist, huddled men and women; the foot-passengers
hurried homewards, their heads bent against the wind and rain; the
bleak-looking newspaper boys, barefooted, pinched, hungry and cold, stood
shivering in doorways, with wet, sticky papers under their arms; and
wherever he looked, John saw only unfriendliness, haste and discomfort.
There would not be a train to Ballyards until late in the afternoon,
and as he stood there, growing less cheerful each moment, he wondered
how he could occupy the time of waiting. The wind blew down the street,
sending the rain scudding in front of it, and chilling him, and, half
unconsciously, he hurried across the road to take shelter in a side
street where, it seemed to him, he would be less exposed. He walked
along the street, keeping in the shadow of the houses, and presently he
found himself before the old market of Smithfield.
"Amn't I the fool," he said to himself, "not to have come here before?"
For here, indeed, was entertainment for any man or woman or child. In
this ancient market for the sale of discarded things, a lonely person
could pass away the dull hours very agreeably. The auctioneers,
wheedling and joking and bullying, could be trusted to amuse any
reasonable man for a while, and when their entertainment was exhausted
there were the stalls to visit and explore. He stood to listen to a
loud-voiced man who was selling secondhand clothes, and then, turning
away, found himself standing before a bookstall. Piles of books, of all
sizes and shapes and colours, lay on a long shutter that rested on
trestles; and in the shop, behind the trestles, were great stacks of
books reaching to the ceiling. He fingered the books with the affection
with which he had seen his Uncle Matthew finger those in the attic at
home. Some of them had the dreary, dull look observable in books that
have long passed out of favour and have lain disregarded in some dark
and dusty corner; and some, though they were old, looked bright and
pleasant as if they were confident that the affection which had been
theirs for years would be continued to them by new owners. He picked up
old volumes and spent much time in contemplating the inscriptions
inside them ... fading inscriptions in a thin, genteel handwriting that
had the careful look of writing done by people who were anxious that
the record should not offend a schoolmaster's eye ... and as he read
these inscriptions, a queer dejection settled on him. These books,
dusty and disregarded, he told himself, represented love and thought
that had perished. Doubt and damp pessimism clutched hold of him. At
the end of every brave adventure was Smithfield Market. He put down a
book which contained an inscription to "Charles Dunwoody from his
affectionate Mother," and looked about him. Everywhere, secondhand,
rejected things were for sale: clothes, furniture, books, pictures ...
The market was a mortuary of ambition and hope, the burial ground of
little enterprises, confidently begun and miserably ended. Here were
the signs of disruption and dispersal, of things attempted but not
achieved, of misfortune and failure, of things used and abandoned for
more coveted things. John had imagined himself performing great feats
to win the love and favour of some beautiful woman ... but now he saw
his adventure in love ending in a loud-voiced auctioneer mouthing jokes
over a ruined home. Behind these piles of books and pictures and
clothes and furniture, one might see young couples bravely setting out
on their little ships of love to seek their fortunes, light-heartedly
facing perils and dangers because of the high hope in their hearts ...
and coming to wreck on a rough coast where their small cargoes were
seized by creditors and brought to this place for sale, and they were
left bare and hurt and discouraged...
"Oh, well!" said John, shrugging his shoulders and picking up a newer
That would not happen to him. If he failed in one enterprise he would
start off on another. If he made a fortune and lost it, he would make
another one. If the things he built were to be destroyed ... well, he
would start building again....
But the mood of pessimism still held him and he could not bear to look
at the books any longer. An unhappy ghost hid behind the covers of each
one of them. He hurried out of the market into the street. The rain had
ceased to fall, but the streets were wet and dirty, and the air struck
at him coldly. He glanced at his watch, and saw that he could not now
catch the train by which he had intended to return to Ballyards.
"I'll go and get my tea somewhere," he said, and then, "I don't think
I'll come to Belfast again. I'm tired of the town!"
He turned into Royal Avenue and passed across Castle Junction into
Donegall Place where there was a shop in which new books were sold. The
shop was closed now, but he was able to see books with handsome covers
in the window and he stayed for a time reading the titles of them.
There was a bustle of people about him, of newspaper boys and flower
girls, bedraggled and cheerless-looking, and of young men and women
tempted to the Saturday evening parade in the chief street of the city
in spite of the rain. The sound of voices in argument and barter and
bright talk mingled with laughter and the noise of the tram-cars and
carts clattering over the stony street. John liked the sound of Belfast
on a Saturday night, the pleased sound of released people intent on
enjoyment and with the knowledge that on the morrow there would still
be freedom from labour, and as he stood in front of the bookshop, half
intent on the books in the window and half intent on the crowd that
moved about him, the gloom which had seized hold of him in Smithfield
began to relax its grip: and when two girls, jostled against him by the
disordered movement of the crowd on the pavement, smiled at him in
apology, he smiled back at them.
He thrust himself through the crowd, breaking into a group of excited
newspaper boys who were thrusting copies of the _Evening
Telegraph_ and _Ireland's Saturday Night_ at possible purchasers,
and walked towards the City Hall, but, changing his mind
unaccountably, he turned down Castle Lane and presently found himself
by the Theatre Royal. He had never been to a theatre in his life, but
Uncle Matthew and Uncle William, when they were young men, used
frequently to come to Belfast from Ballyards to see a play, and they
had told him of the great pleasure they had had at the "old Royal."
"I've a good mind to go there to-night," he said to himself, as he
crossed the street to examine the playbills which were posted on the
walls of the theatre. Mr. F.R. Benson's Shakespearean Company, he read
on the bill by the stage-door, would perform _The Merchant of
Venice_ that evening. The Company would remain in Belfast during the
following week and would produce other plays by Shakespeare.
"I _will_ go," he said to himself. "I'll go somewhere now and have
my tea, and then I'll hurry back!"
He remembered that he had seen a volume of Shakespeare's plays in the
bookshop in Donegall Place and that Uncle Matthew had each of the plays
in a separate volume in the attic at home. He had read _The Merchant
of Venice_ a long time ago, but had only a vague recollection of it.
In one of the school-books, Portia's speech on mercy was printed, and
he could say that piece off by heart. The Jew had snarled at Portia
when she had said "Then must the Jew be merciful!" "On what compulsion
must I?" he had demanded, and she had replied, "The quality of mercy is
not strained...." The school-book did not print Portia's statement that
the Jew must be merciful or the Jew's snarling demand, "On what
compulsion must I?"; but Mr. Cairnduff had explained the story of the
play to the class and had told them of these two speeches, and John,
interested by the story, had gone home and searched through the attic
for the play, and there had read it through.
His mind went back to the bookshop. "It must be fine to work in a place
like that, with all the books you can want to read all round you," he
said to himself while he hurried through Corn Market on his way to a
restaurant. He stopped for a moment or two, as an idea suddenly
presented itself to him. "I know what I'll do," he said aloud. "I'll
start a bookshop myself. _New_ books ... not old ones. That sort
of life would suit me fine!"
He ate his meal in great haste, and then hurried back to the theatre
where a queue of people had already formed outside the entrance to the
pit. Soon after he joined the queue, the doors were opened, and in a
little while he found himself sitting at the end of the second row. He
had chosen this seat so that he might be able to hurry out of the
theatre quickly, without disturbing anyone, if he should have to leave
before the play was ended to catch the last train to Ballyards.
A boy about his own age was sitting next to him, and this boy asked
John to let him have a look at his programme.
"Did you ever see this piece before?" John said to him, as he passed
the programme to him.
"I did not," he replied. "I'm not much of a one for plays. I generally
go to the 'Lhambra on a Saturday, but somehow I didn't go there the
"That's a terrible place, that 'Lhambra," said John.
"What's terrible about it?" his neighbour replied.
"I don't know. I was never there. This is the first time I've ever been
in a theatre. But I've heard fearful things about that place, about
women coming out and dancing with hardly any clothes on, and then
kicking up their legs and all. I have an uncle went there once, and
when the woman began kicking up her legs and showing off her clothes,
he got up and stood with his back to the stage 'til she was done, he
was that disgusted."
John remembered how shocked Uncle William had been when he told that
story of himself.
"Your uncle must be very easy shocked," said the boy. "I can look at
women kicking up their legs, and I don't think nothing of it at all. I
like a good song and dance myself. I don't like plays much. Gimme a
woman that's nice-looking and can sing and dance a bit, and I wouldn't
ask you for nothing nicer. Is there any dancin' in this bit, do you
"I don't think so," said John. "I've never seen the piece before, but
I've read it. I don't think there's any dancing in it!"
"And no comic songs?..."
"Sure, you'll see for yourself in a wee minute!"
John's neighbour considered. "I wonder would they give me my money back
if I was to go to the pay-box and let on I was sick!"
"They'd never do that," said John. "They'd know rightly you weren't
sick by the look of you!"
The boy returned the programme to John. "Well, I wish they'd hurry up
and begin," he murmured.
The members of the orchestra came through a door beneath the stage and
took their places, and the sound of fiddles being tuned was heard for a
while. Then the leader of the orchestra came to his place, and after a
pause, the music began.
"A fiddle's great value," John's neighbour whispered to him. "I'm a
great hand at the Jew's harp myself!..."
The music ceased, the lights were lowered in the theatre and the
footlights were raised, throwing a great soft yellow glow on the
picture of the Lakes of Killarney which decorated the drop-curtain.
Then, the curtain was rolled up, and the performance began.
He had been interested by the play when he read it, but now he was
enthralled by it. He wished that the boy sitting next to him would not
keep on asking for the programme every time a fresh character appeared
on the stage and would refrain from making comments on the play while
it was being performed. "Them people wore quare clothes in them days!"
he had whispered to John soon after the play began, and when Shylock
made his first entrance, he said, "Ah, for Jase' sake, look at the oul'
"Ssh!" said John. "Don't talk!..."
"Ah, shut up," said John.
He did not wish to talk during the intervals between the acts. He
wished to sit still in his seat and perform the play over again in his
mind. He tried to remember Bassanio's description of Portia:
_In Belmont is a lady richly left,
And she is fair, and fairer than that word,
Of wondrous virtues...._
He could not think of the words that came after that ... except one
_ ...And her sunny locks
Hang on her temples like a golden fleece._
He repeated this sentence to himself many times, as if he were tasting
each word with his tongue and with his mind, and once he said it aloud
in a low voice.
"Eh?" said his neighbour.
"I was just reciting a piece from the play," he explained.
"What were you reciting?"
"Do you remember that piece: _and her sunny locks hang on her temples
like a golden fleece?"_
"In the first act? When the young fellow, Bassanio, was telling Antonio
about his girl in Belmont?"
His neighbour turned to him eagerly. "I wonder did they just put that
bit in about Belmont," he said. "There's a place near Belfast called
Belmont ... just beyond the Hollywood Arches there! Do you know it?"
John shook his head. "I wouldn't be surprised but they just put that
bit in to make it look more like the thing. What was the piece you were
reciting?" John repeated it to him again. "What's the sense of that?"
the boy exclaimed.
"Oh, don't you see? It's ... it's ..." He did not know how to explain
the speech. "It's poetry," he said lamely.
"Oh" said the boy. "Portry. I see now. Ah, well, I suppose they have to
fill up the piece some way! Do you think that woman, what's her name
"Aye. D'you think she did live at Belmont? Some of them stories is
true, you know, and there was quare things happened in the oul' ancient
days in this neighbourhood, I can tell you. I wouldn't be surprised
But before he could say any more, the lights were lowered again, and
there was a hushing sound, and then the play proceeded.
"Oh, isn't it grand?" John said to his neighbour when the trial scene
But his neighbour remained unmoved. "D'you mean to tell me," he said,
"that man didn't know his wife when he saw her in the Coort?"
"That fellow what-you-may-call-him? The man that was married on the
girl with the red dress on her!..."
"Aye. D'you mean to tell me that fellow didn't know her again, and him
only just after leaving her!..."
John tried to explain. "It's a play," he said. "He's not supposed to
"Och, what's the good of supposing a thing that couldn't be!" said
John's neighbour. "Any man with half an eye in his head could have seen
who she was. I wish I'd gone to the 'Lhambra. This is a damn silly
John was horrified. "Silly," he said. "It's by Shakespeare!"
"I don't care who it's by," was the reply. "It's damn silly to let on a
man doesn't know his own wife when he sees her. I suppose that's
portry!" he sneered.
John did not answer, and his neighbour went on. "Well, if it is
portry ... God help it, that's all!"
But John did not care whether Bassanio had recognized Portia in the
court scene or not. He left the theatre in an exalted mood in which he
had little thought for the realities. Next week he told himself, he
would visit the Royal again. He would see two plays on the following
Saturday, one in the afternoon and one in the evening. The bills for
the following week's programme were already pasted on the walls of the
theatre when he came out, and he risked the loss of his train by
stopping to read one of them. _Romeo and Juliet_ was to be
performed in the afternoon, and _Julius Caesar_ in the evening.
He hurried down Ann Street and across the Queen's Bridge, and reached
the railway station just in time to catch his train; and all the way
across the bridge and all the way home in the train, one sentence
passed continually through his mind:
_...And her sunny locks
Hang on her temples like a golden fleece._
While he ate his supper, he spoke to his mother and his uncles of his
intention to open a bookshop.
"I'm going to start a bookshop," he said. "I made up my mind in Belfast
"A what?" Mrs. MacDermott demanded.
"A bookshop, ma. I'll have every book you can think of in it!..."
"In the name of God," his mother exclaimed, "who do you think buys
books in this place?"
"Plenty of people, ma. Mr. McCaughan!..."
"Mr. McCaughan never buys a book from one year's end to another," she
interrupted. "And if he did, you can't support a shop on one man's
custom. The people of this town doesn't waste their time on reading:
they do their work!"
John turned angrily on her. "It's not a waste of time to read books,
ma. Is it, Uncle Matthew?"
"You may well ask him," she said before Uncle Matthew could answer.
"What do you think, Uncle William?" John went on.
Uncle William thought for a few moments. "I don't know what to think,"
he said. "It's not a trade I know much about, John, but I doubt whether
there's a living in it in Ballyards."