Part 2 out of 8
"There's no living in it," Mrs. MacDermott exclaimed passionately, "and
if there was, you shouldn't earn your living by it!"
John gazed at her in astonishment. Her eyes were shining, not with
tears, though tears were not far from them, but with resentment and
"Why, ma?" he said.
"Because books are the ruin of people's minds," she replied. "Your da
was always reading books, wild books that disturbed him. He was never
done reading _The Rights of Man_. And look at your Uncle Matthew!..."
She stopped suddenly as if she realised that she had said too much.
Uncle Matthew did not speak. He looked at her mournfully, and then he
"I don't want to say one word to hurt anyone's feelings," she continued
in a lower tone, "but my life's been made miserable by books, and I
don't want to see my son made miserable, too. And you know well,
Matthew," she added, turning to her brother-in-law, "that all your
reading has done you no good, but a great deal of harm. And what's the
use of books, anyway? Will they help a man to make a better life for
Uncle Matthew turned to her quickly. "They will, they will," he said,
and his voice trembled with emotion. "People can take your work from
you and make little of you in the street because you did what your
heart told you to do, but you'll get your comfort in a book, so you
will. I know what you're hinting at, Hannah, but I'm not ashamed of
what I did for the oul' Queen, and I'd do it again, gaol or no gaol, if
I was to be hanged for it the day after!"
He turned to John.
"I don't know what sort of a living you'll make out of selling books,"
he said, "and I don't care either, but if you do start a shop to sell
them, let me tell you this, you'll never prosper in it if it doesn't
hurt you sore to part with a book, for books is like nothing else on
God's earth. You _have_ to love them ... you _have_ to love
"You're daft," said Mrs. MacDermott.
"Mebbe I am," Uncle Matthew replied wearily. "But that's the way I
feel, and no man can help the way he feels!"
He sat down at the table, resting his head in his hands, and gazed
hungrily at his nephew.
"You can help putting notions into a person's head," said Mrs.
MacDermott. "John might as well try to _write_ books as try to
sell them in this town!"
"_Write_ books!" John exclaimed.
"Aye, write them!..."
But Uncle Matthew would not let her finish her sentence. "And why
shouldn't he write books if he has a mind to it?" he demanded. "Wasn't
he always the wee lad for scribbling bits of stories in penny exercise
"He was ... 'til I beat him for it," she replied. "Why can't you settle
down here in the shop with your Uncle William?" she said to her son.
"It's a comfortable, quiet sort of a life, and it's sure and steady,
and when we're all gone, it'll be yours for yourself. Won't it,
"Oh, aye!" said Uncle William. "Everything we have'll be John's right
enough, but I doubt he's not fond of the shop!..."
"What's wrong with the shop? It's as good as any in the town!" She
coaxed John with her voice. "You can marry some nice, respectable girl
and bring her here," she said, "and I'll gladly give place to her when
she comes!" She rocked herself gently to and fro in the rocking-chair.
"I'd like well to have the nursing of your children in the house that
you yourself were born in!..."
"Och, ma, I'm not in the way of marrying!..."
"You'll marry some time, won't you? And there's plenty would be glad to
have you. Aggie Logan, though I can't bear the sight of her, would give
the two eyes out of her head for you. Of course you'll marry, and I'd
be thankful glad to think of your son being born in this house. You
were born in it, and your da, too, and his da, and his da's da. Four
generations of you in one house to be pleased and proud of, and I pray
to God he'll let me live to see the fifth generation of the MacDermotts
born here, too. I'm a great woman for clinging to my home, and I love
to think of the generations coming one after the other in the same
house that the family's always lived in. How many people in this town
can say they've always lived in the one house like the MacDermotts?"
"Not very many," Uncle William proudly replied.
"No, indeed there's not, I tell you, John, son, the MacDermotts are
someone in this town, as grand in their way and as proud as Lord
Castlederry himself. That's something to live up to, isn't it! The good
name of your family! But if you go tramping the world for adventures
and romances, the way your Uncle Matthew would have you do, you'll lose
it all, and there'll be strangers in the house that your family's lived
in all these generations. And mebbe you'll come here, when you're an
oul' man and we're all dead and buried, and no one in the place'll have
any mind of you at all, and you'll be lonelier here nor anywhere else.
Oh, it would be terrible to be treated like a stranger in your own
town! And if you did start a bookshop and it failed on you, and you
lost all your money, wouldn't it be worse disgrace than any not to be
able to pay your debts in a place where everyone knows you ... to be
made a bankrupt mebbe?"
"Ah, but, ma, the world would never move at all if everybody stopped in
the one place!" John said.
"The world'll move well enough," she answered. "God moves it, not you."
John got up from the table and went, and sat on a low stool by the
fire. "I don't know so much," he said. "I read in a book one time!..."
"In a book!" Mrs. MacDermott sneered.
"Aye, ma, in a book!" John stoutly answered. "After all, you know the
Bible's a book!" Mrs. MacDermott had not got a retort to that
statement, and John, aware that he had scored a point, hurriedly
proceeded, "I was reading one time that all the work in the world was
started by men that wrote books. There never was any change or progress
'til someone started to think and write!..."
Mrs. MacDermott recovered her wits. "Were they happy and contented
men?" she demanded.
"I don't know, ma," John replied. "The book didn't say that. I suppose
not, or they wouldn't have wanted to make any alterations!"
"Let them that wants to make changes, make them," said Mrs. MacDermott.
"There's no need for you to go about altering the world when you can
stay at home here happy and content!"
Uncle Matthew rose from the table and came towards Mrs. MacDermott.
"What does it matter whether you're happy and contented or not, so long
as things are happening to you?" he exclaimed.
Mrs. MacDermott burst into bitter laughter. "You have little wit," she
said, "to be talking that daft way. Eh, William?" she added, turning to
her other brother-in-law. "What do you think about it?"
Uncle William had lit his pipe, and was sitting in a listening
attitude, slowly puffing smoke. "I'm wondering," he said, "whether it's
more fun to be writing about things nor it is to be doing things!"
John turned to him and tapped him on the knee. "I've thought of that,
Uncle William," he said, "and I tell you what! I'll go and do
something, and then I'll write a book about it!"
"What'll you do?" Mrs. MacDermott asked.
"Something," said John. "I can easily do _some_thing!"
"And what about the bookshop?" said Uncle Matthew.
"Och, that was only a notion that came into my head," John answered. "I
won't bother myself selling books: I'll write them instead!" He glanced
about the kitchen. "I've a good mind to start writing something now!"
His mother sprang to her feet. "You'll do no such thing at this hour,"
she said. "It's nearly Sunday morning. Would you begin your career by
desecrating God's Day!"
"If you start doing things," said Uncle, reverting to John's
declaration of work, "you'll mebbe have no time to write about them!"
"Oh, I'll have the time right enough. I'll make the time," John said.
Uncle William got up and walked towards the staircase. "Where are you
going, William?" Mrs. MacDermott asked.
"To my bed," said Uncle William.
Suddenly the itch to write came to John, and he began to rummage among
the papers and books on the shelves for writing-paper.
"What are you looking for?" his mother enquired.
"Paper to write on," he said.
"You'll not write one word the night!..."
"Ah, quit, ma!" he said. "I must put down an idea that's come in my
head. I'd mebbe forget it in the morning!"
"The greatest writers in the world have sat up all night, writing out
their thoughts," Uncle Matthew murmured.
John did not pay any heed to his mother's scowls and remonstrances. He
found sheets of writing-paper and placed them neatly on the table,
together with a pen and ink. He looked at the materials critically.
There was paper, there was ink and there was a pen with a new nib in
it, and blotting paper!...
He drew a chair up to the table and sat down in front of the writing
paper. He contemplated it for a long time while Mrs. MacDermott put
away the remnants of his supper, and his Uncle Matthew sat by the fire
"What are you waiting for, John?" his Uncle Matthew asked.
"Inspiration," John replied.
He sat still, scarcely moving even for ease in his chair, staring at
the white paper until it began to dance in front of his eyes, but he
did not begin to write on it.
"Are you still waiting for inspiration, John?" his Uncle asked.
"Aye," he answered.
"You don't seem to be getting any," Mrs. MacDermott said.
He got up and put the writing materials away. "I'll wait 'til the
morning," he replied.
THE THIRD CHAPTER
John wrote his first story during the following week, and when he had
completed it, he made a copy of it on large sheets of foolscap in a
shapely hand, and sewed the pages together with green thread. Uncle
Matthew had purchased brass fasteners to bind the pages together, but
Uncle William said that a man might easily tear his fingers with "them
things" and contract blood-poisoning.
"And that would give him a scunner against your story, mebbe!" he
John accepted Uncle William's advice, not so much in the interests of
humanity, as because he liked the look of the green thread. He had read
the story to his uncles, after the shop was closed. They had drawn
their chairs up to the fire, in which sods of turf and coal were
burning, and the agreeable odour of the turf soothed their senses while
they listened to John's sharp voice. Mrs. MacDermott would not join the
circle before the fire. She declared that she had too much work to do
to waste her time on trash, and she wondered that her brothers-in-law
could find nothing better to do than to encourage a headstrong lad in a
foolish business. She went about her work with much bustle and clatter,
which, however, diminished considerably as John began to read the
story, and ended altogether soon afterwards.
"D'you like it, Uncle William?" John said, when he had read the story
"Aye," said Uncle William.
"I'm glad," John answered. "And you, do you like it, Uncle Matthew?"
"I like it queer and well," Uncle Matthew murmured, "only!..." He
hesitated as if he were reluctant to make any adverse comment on the
"Only what?" John demanded with some impatience. He had asked for the
opinions of his uncles, indeed, but it had not occurred to him that
they would not think as highly of the story as he thought of it
"Well ... there's no love in it!" Uncle Matthew went on.
"Aye," Uncle Matthew said. "There's no mention of a woman in it from
start to finish. I think there ought to be a woman in it!"
Mrs. MacDermott, who had been silent now for some time, made a noise
with a dish on the table. "Och, sure, what does he know about love?"
she exclaimed angrily. "A child that's not long left his mother's arms
would know as much. Mebbe, now you've read your oul' story, John, the
whole of yous will sit up to the table and take your tea!"
John, disregarding his mother, sat back in his chair and contemplated
his Uncle Matthew.
"I wonder now, are you right?" he exclaimed.
"I am," Uncle Matthew replied. "The best stories in the world have
women in them, and love-making! I never could take any interest in
_Robinson Crusoe_ because he hadn't got a girl on that island with
him, and I thought to myself many's a time, it was a queer mistake not
to make Friday a woman. He could have fallen in love with her then!"
Uncle William said up sharply. "Aye, and had a wheen of black babies!"
he said. "Man, dear, Matthew, think what you're saying! What sort of
romance would there be in the like of that? I never read much, as you
know, but I always had a great fancy for _Robinson Crusoe_. The
way that man turned to and did things for himself ... I tell you my
heart warmed to him. _I_ like your story, John, women or no women.
Sure, love isn't the only thing that men make!..."
"It's the most important," said Uncle Matthew.
"And why shouldn't a story be written about any other thing nor a lot
of love?" Uncle William continued, ignoring the interruption. "I
daresay you'll get a mint of money for that story, John. I've heard
tell that some of these writers gets big pay for their stories. Pounds
John crinkled his manuscript in his hand and regarded it with a modest
look. "I don't suppose I'll get much for the first one," he said. "In
fact, if they'll print it, I'll be willing to let them have it for
nothing ... just for the satisfaction!"
"That would be a foolish thing to do," Uncle William retorted. "Sure,
if it's worth printing, it's worth paying for. That's the way I look at
"I daresay I'll make more, when I know the way of it better!" John
answered. "What paper will I send it to, do you think?"
"Send it to the best one," said Uncle William.
Mrs. MacDermott took a plate of toast from the fender where it had been
put to keep warm. "Send it to the one that pays the most," she
"I thought you weren't listening, ma!" John exclaimed, laughing at her.
"A body can't help hearing when people are talking at the top of their
voices," she said tartly. "Come on, for dear sake, and have your teas,
the whole of yous!"
It was Uncle William who advised John to send the story to
_Blackwood's Magazine_. He said that in his young days, people
said _Blackwood's Magazine_ was the best magazine in the world.
Uncle Matthew had demurred to this. "I'm not saying it's not a good
one," he said, "but it's terribly bitter against Ireland. The man that
writes that magazine must have a bitter, blasting tongue in his head!"
"Never mind what it says about Ireland," Uncle William retorted. "Sure,
they're only against the Papishes, anyway!..."
"The Papishes are as good as the Protestants," Uncle Matthew exclaimed.
"I daresay they are," Uncle William admitted, "but I'm only saying that
_Blackwood's Magazine_ is against _them:_ it's not against
us; and I don't see why John shouldn't send his story to it. He's a
"If I wrote a story," Uncle Matthew went on, "I wouldn't send it to any
paper that made little of my country, Protestant or Papish, no matter
how good a paper it was nor how much it paid me for my story. Ireland
is as good as England any day!..."
"It's better," said Uncle William complacently. "Sure, God Himself
knows the English would be on the dung-heap if it wasn't for us and the
Scotchmen. But that's no reason why John shouldn't send his story to
_Blackwood's Magazine_. In one way, it's a good reason why he
should send it there, for sure, if he does nothing else, he'll improve
the tone of the thing. You do what I tell you, John!..."
And so, accepting his Uncle William's advice, John sent the manuscript
of his story to the editor of _Blackwood's Magazine;_ and each
morning, after he had done so, he eagerly awaited the advent of the
postman. But the postman, more often than not, went past their door.
When he did deliver a letter to them, it was usually a trading letter
for Uncle William.
"Them people get a queer lot of stories to read," Uncle William said to
console his nephew, disappointed because he had not received a letter
of acceptance from the editor by Saturday morning, four days after he
had posted the manuscript. "It'll mebbe take them a week or two to
"They could have sent a postcard to say they'd got it all right," John
replied ruefully. "That's the civil thing to do, anyway!"
He remembered that the Benson Shakespearean Company was still in
Belfast and that _Romeo and Juliet_ was to be performed in the
afternoon, and _Julius Caesar_ in the evening; and he went up to
the city by an earlier train than usual so that he might be certain of
getting to the theatre in time to secure an end seat near the front of
the pit. He had proposed to his Uncle Matthew that he should go to
Belfast, too, to see the plays, but Uncle Matthew shook his head and
murmured that he was not feeling well. He had been listless lately,
they had noticed, and Uncle William, regarding him one afternoon as he
stood at the door of the shop, had turned to John and said that he
would be glad when the summer weather came in again, so that Uncle
Matthew could go down to the shore and lie in the sun.
"He's not a robust man, your Uncle Matthew!" he said. "I don't think he
tholes the winter well!"
"Och, he's mebbe only a wee bit out of sorts," John answered. "I wish,
he'd come to Belfast with me!..."
"He'll never go next or near that place again," Uncle William replied.
"He's never been there since that affair!..."
"You'd wonder at a man letting a thing of that sort affect his mind the
way Uncle Matthew let it affect his," John murmured.
"When a man believes in a thing as deeply as he believed in the oul'
Queen," said Uncle William, "it's a terrible shock to him to find out
that other people doesn't believe in it half as much as he does ... or
mebbe doesn't believe in it at all!"
"I suppose you're right," said John.
"I am," said Uncle William.
John was the first person to reach the door of the pit that afternoon.
The morning had been rough and blusterous, and although the streets
were dry, the cold wind blowing down from the hills made people
reluctant to stand outside a theatre door. John, who was hardy and
indifferent to cold, stood inside the shelter of the door and read the
copy of _Romeo and Juliet_ which he had borrowed from his Uncle
Matthew; and while he read the play he remembered his uncle's criticism
of the story he had written for _Blackwood's Magazine_: that it
ought to have had a woman in it! This play was full of love. Romeo,
sighing and groaning because his lady will not look kindly upon him,
runs from his friends who "jest at scars that never felt a wound" ...
and finds Juliet! In _The Merchant of Venice_, Bassanio and
Portia, Lorenzo and Jessica, Gratiano and Nerissa had all made love.
Even young Gobbo, in a coarse, philandering way, had made love, too! In
all the books he had read, women were prominent. Queer and distressing
things happened to the heroes; they were constantly in trouble and
under suspicion of wrong-doing; poverty and persecution were common to
them; frequently, they were misunderstood; but in the end, they had
their consolations and their rights and rewards. Love was the great
predominating element in all these stories, the support and inspiration
and reward of the troubled and tortured hero; and Woman was the symbol
of victory, of achievement. At the end of every journey, at the finish
of every fight, there was a Woman. Uncle Matthew had spoken wisely,
John thought, when he said that you cannot leave women out of your
schemes and plans.
John had not thought of leaving women out of his schemes and plans. In
all his romantic imaginings, a woman of superb beauty had figured in a
dim way; but the woman had been a dream woman only, bearing no
resemblance whatever to the visible women about him. He had so much
regard for this woman of his imagined adventures ... she changed her
looks as frequently as he changed the scene of his romances ... that he
had no regard left for the women of his acquaintance. He nodded to the
girls he knew when he met them in the street, but he had never felt any
desire to "go up the road" with one of them. Willie Logan, as John
knew, was "coortin' hard" and laying up trouble for himself by his
diverse affections; and Aggie Logan, forgetful, perhaps, of the rebuff
that John had given to her childish offers of love, had lately taken to
hanging about the street when John was due to pass along it. She would
pretend not to see him until he was close to her. Then she would start
and giggle and say, "Oh, John, is that you? You're a terrible stranger
these days!..." Once while he was listening to her as she made some
such remark as that, Lady Castlederry drove by in her carriage, and his
eyes wandered from the sallow, giggling girl in front of him to the
beautiful woman in the carriage; and Aggie suffered severely by the
comparison. And yet Aggie had a quicker and more intelligent look than
Lady Castlederry. The beautiful, arrogant woman was like the dream-woman
of his romances ... and again, she was not like her; for the dream-women
had not got Lady Castlederry's look of settled stupidity in her eyes.
John had hurriedly quitted Aggie's company on that occasion. He knew
why Aggie always contrived to meet him in the street, and he thought
that she was a poor fool of a girl to do it. And her brother Willie was
a "great gumph of a fellow," to go capering up and down the road in the
evenings after any girl that would say a civil word to him or laugh
when he laughed!...
All the same, women mattered to men. Uncle Matthew had said so, and
Uncle Matthew was in the right of it. In the story-books, women surged
into the hero's life, good women and bad women and even indifferent
women. And, now, in these plays, he could see for himself that women
mattered enormously. Yet he had never been in love with a girl! He was
not even in love with the dream-woman of his romances. She was his
reward for honourable and arduous service ... that was all. He was not
in love with her any more than he was in love with a Sunday School
prize. It was a reward for regular attendance and for accurate answers
to Biblical questions, and he was glad to have it. It rested on the
bookshelf in the drawing-room, and sometimes, when there were visitors
in the house, his mother would request him to take it down and show it
to them. They would read the inscription and make remarks on the oddness
of Mr. McCaughan's signature and turn over the pages of the book ... and
then they would hand it back to him and he would replace it on the
shelf ... and no more was said about it. Really, his dream-woman
had not meant much more to him than that. She would be given to him
when he had won his fight, and he would take her and be glad to get
her ... he would be very proud of her and would exhibit her to his
friends and say, "This is my beautiful wife!" and then!... oh, well,
there did not appear to be anything else after that. The book always
came to an end when the hero married the heroine. Probably she and he
had children ... but, beyond the fact that they lived happily ever
afterwards, there did not appear to be much more to say about them....
Somehow, it seemed to him now, as he stood in the shelter of the Pit
Entrance to the Theatre Royal, reading _Romeo and Juliet_, that
the heroine was different from his dream-woman. His dream-woman had
always been very insubstantial and remote, but Juliet was a real woman,
alive and passionate, with a real father and a real mother. The odd
thing about his dream-woman was that she did not appear to have any
relatives ... at least he had never heard of any. She had not even got
a name. She never spoke to him. Always, when the adventure was ended,
he went up to the dream-woman, waiting for him in a misty manner, and
he took hold of her hand and led her away ... and while he was leading
her away, the adventure seemed to come to an end ... the picture
dissolved ... and he could not see any more. Once, indeed, he had
kissed his dream-woman ... he had kissed her exactly as he had kissed
his great-aunt, Miss Clotworthy, who was famous for the fact that
she had attended a Sunday School in Belfast as pupil and teacher for
fifty-seven years without a break ... and the dream-woman had taken the
kiss in the unemotional manner in which she took hold of his hand when he
led her away ... and lost her!...
There was something wrong with his dream-woman, he told himself. This
man Shakespeare, so everybody said, was the greatest poet England had
produced ... perhaps the greatest poet the world had produced ... and
he ought to know something of what women were like. Whatever else
Juliet might be, she certainly was not like John's dream-woman. She did
not stand at the end of the road waiting for Romeo to come to her. She
did not wait until the fight was fought and won. She did not offer a
cold hand or cold lips to Romeo. Her behaviour was really more like
that of Aggie Logan than that of the dream-woman!...
Aggie Logan! That "girner" with the sallow look and the giggle! He
could see her now, standing in the street waiting for him, dabbing at
her mouth with the foolish handkerchief she always carried in her hand.
What did she want to keep on dabbing at her mouth with her handkerchief
for! Men didn't dab at _their_ mouths.... Nor did the dream-woman
dab at hers.... But it was just possible ... indeed, it was very
likely, that Juliet dabbed at hers!...
At that moment, the Pit Door opened, and John, having paid his
shilling, passed into the theatre.
He came away from the play in a disturbed and exalted state. Suddenly
and compellingly, he had become aware of the fact of Women. While he
sat in the front row of the pit, listening with his whole body to the
play, something stirred in him and he became aware of Women. The
actress who played the part of Juliet had turned towards the audience
for a few moments during the performance and, so it seemed to him, had
looked straight into his eyes. She did not avert her gaze immediately,
nor did he avert his. He imagined that she was appealing to him ... he
forgot that he was sitting in the pit of a theatre listening to a play
written by a man who had died three hundred years ago ... and
remembered only that he was a young man with aspirations and romantic
longings, and that a young woman, in a pitiable plight, was gazing into
his eyes ... and his heart reached out to her. He drew in his breath
quickly, murmuring a soft "Oh," and as he did so, his dream-woman fell
dead and he did not even turn to look at her.
When the play was over, he had sat still in his seat, more deeply moved
than he had ever been before, overwhelmed by the disaster which had
come upon the young lovers through the foolish brawls of their foolish
elders; and it was not until an impatient woman had prodded him in the
side that he returned to reality.
"I beg your pardon, ma'am!" he said and got up and hurried out of the
theatre into the street.
He went along High Street towards Castle Place, and as he walked along,
he regarded each woman and girl that approached him with interest.
"That one's nice-looking!" he said of a girl, and "That one's ugly!" he
said of another. He wondered why it was that all the older women of the
working-class were so misshapen and lacking in good looks, when so many
of the girls of the working-class were shapely and pretty. Mr.
Cairnduff had told him that Belfast girls were prettier than London
girls. "London girls aren't pretty at all," Mr. Cairnduff had said.
"You'd walk miles in London before you'd see a pretty girl, but you
wouldn't walk ten yards in Belfast before you'd meet dozens!" And yet,
all those pretty working-girls grew into dull, misshapen, displeasing
women. "It's getting married that does it, I suppose," he said to
himself. "They were all nice once, but they married and grew ugly!"
He did not look long at the ugly and misshapen women. His eyes quickly
searched through the crowds of passers-by for the pretty girls, and at
them he looked with eagerness.
"There's no doubt about it," he said to himself, "girls are nice to
He found a restaurant in the street off High Street. He climbed up some
stairs, and then, pushing a door open, entered a large room, at the
back of which was a smaller room. A girl was standing at a window,
looking out on to the street, but she turned her head when she heard
him entering. She smiled pleasantly as he sat down, and came forward to
take his order.
"It's turned out a brave day after all," she said.
He said "Aye" and smiled at her in return. She had thick, fair hair,
and he remembered Bassanio's description of Portia:
_And her sunny locks
Hang on her temples like a golden fleece._
He had a curious desire to talk to the girl about the play he had just
seen, and before he gave his order, he glanced about the room. She and
he were the only persons in it.
"You don't seem to be very busy," he said.
"Och, indeed, we're not," she replied. "We seldom are on a Saturday.
Mrs. Bothwall ... her that owns the place ... thought mebbe some
football fellows might come here for their tea after the matches so's
they needn't go home before starting for the Empire or the Alhambra:
but, sure, none of them ever comes. We might as well be shut for the
custom we get!"
He ordered his tea, and she went to the small room at the back of the
large room to prepare it. He thought it would be a good plan to ask the
girl if she would care to have her tea with him, but a sudden shyness
prevented him from doing so, and he was unable to say more than "Thank
you" when she put the teapot by his side. There was plenty for two on
the table, he said to himself: a loaf and a bap and some soda-farls and
a potato cake and the half of a barn-brack and butter and raspberry
jam. He looked across the room to where the girl was again looking out
of the window. He liked the way she stood, with one hand resting on her
hip and the other on her cheek. He could see that she had small feet
and slender ankles, and while he looked at her, she rubbed her foot
against her leg and he saw for a moment or two the flash of a white
"I was at the Royal the day!" he called to her.
She turned round quickly. "Were you?" she said. "Was it good?"
"It was grand. I enjoyed it the best," he answered.
She came towards him and sat down at a table near to his. "What piece
was it you saw?" she asked. "It's Benson's Company, isn't it?"
"Yes. I saw _Romeo and Juliet_."
"Oh, that's an awful sad piece. I cried my eyes out one year when I saw
"It's a great play," John said.
"I suppose you often go?" she went on.
"Last Saturday was the first time I ever went to a theatre. I saw
_The Merchant of Venice_. I'll go every Saturday after this, when
there's a good piece on. I'm going again to-night to see _Julius
"I'd love to see that piece!"
"Aye, indeed I would. I'm just doting on the theatre. The last piece I
saw was _The Lights of London_. It was lovely."
"I never saw that bit," John answered. "You see I live in Ballyards and
I only come up to town on Saturdays."
"By your lone?" she asked.
He nodded his head. He poured out his tea, and then began to spread
butter on a piece of soda-farl.
"I'd be awful dull walking the streets by myself," she said, watching
him as he did so. "I'm a terrible one for company. I can't bear being
"Company's good," he said. "Have you had your tea yet?"
"I'll be having it in a wee while!"
"I wish you'd have it with me!" He spoke hesitatingly.
"Oh, I couldn't!" she exclaimed.
"Sure, what's to hinder you?" His voice became bolder.
"Oh, I couldn't. I couldn't really!..."
"You might as well have it with me as have it by yourself. And there's
nobody'll see you. Where's Mrs. Bothwell?"
"She's away home with a headache!..."
"Then you're all by yourself here!" She nodded her head. "What time do
you shut?" he went on.
"Half-six generally, but Mrs. Bothwell said I'd better shut at six the
He took a cup and saucer and a knife and plate from an adjoining table
and put them down opposite his own.
"Come on," he said, "and have your tea!"
"Och, I couldn't," she protested weakly.
He poured out some of the tea for her, "I suppose you take milk and
sugar?" he said.
"You're a terrible fellow," she murmured admiringly, and he could see
that her eyes were shining with pleasure.
"Draw up to the table," he replied.
She hesitated for a little while, and then she sat down. "This is not
very like the thing," she murmured.
"It doesn't matter whether it is or not," he replied. "What'll you
have ... bread or soda-farl?"
She helped herself.
"You know," he said, "I was thinking it would be a good plan for the
two of us to go to the theatre to-night!"
"The two of us," she exclaimed. "Me and you!"
"Aye! Why not?"
She put down her cup and laughed. "I never met anybody in my life that
made so much progress in a short time as you do," she said. "What in
the earthly world put that notion into your head?"
"There's no notion about it," he exclaimed. "I'm asking you plump and
plain will you come to the theatre with me to-night!..."
"But it wouldn't be like the thing at all to go to the theatre with a
boy that I never saw before and never heard tell of 'til this minute. I
don't even know your name!..."
"John MacDermott," he said.
"Are you a Catholic?"
"No. I'm a Presbyterian."
"It's a Catholic name," she mused. "I know a family by the name of
MacDermott, and they're desperate Catholics. They live over in
Ballymacarrett. Do you know them?"
"I do not. There never was a person in our family was a Catholic ...
not that we have mind of. Will you come with me?"
"Ooh, I couldn't!"
"I'll not take 'No' for an answer!" he said, "and I'll not put another
bite in my mouth 'til you say 'Yes.' D'you hear me?"
"You've an awful abrupt way of talking," she replied.
"What's abrupt about it?" he demanded.
"Well, queer then!" she said.
"I see nothing abrupt or queer about it. Are you coming or are you
"As if you were used to getting what you wanted, the minute you wanted
it," she went on, disregarding his question and intent on explaining
the queerness of his speech. "I'd be afeard to be _your_ wife,
you'd be such a bossy man!"
"Ah, quit!" he said. "Will you come?"
"Will you or will you not?"
"You're an awful man," she protested.
"Will you come?"
"All right, then," she replied, "but!..."
"I'll have some more tea," said John. He looked round the room while
she poured the tea into his cup. "Are there any more cakes or buns?" he
"Yes, would you like some?"
"Bring a plate full," he said. "Bring some with sugar on the top and
jam in the middle!"
"You've a sweet tongue in your head!" She went to the small room as she
"I have," he exclaimed. "And I daresay you have, too!"
"You never told me your name," he said, when she returned with the
plate of cakes.
"Give a guess!" she teased.
He looked at her for a moment. "Maggie!" he said.
"How did you know?"
"I didn't know," he answered. "You look like a Maggie. What's your
"Maggie Carmichael!" he exclaimed. "It's a nice name!"
"I'm glad you like it," she said.
He sat back in his chair while she went to prepare for the theatre. How
lucky it was that he had asked his Uncle William for more money that
morning "in case I need it!" If he had not done so, he would not have
been able to offer to take Maggie to the theatre.... They would go in
by the Early Door. There was certain to be a crowd outside the ordinary
door on a Saturday night. What a piece of luck it was that he had
chosen to take his tea in this place instead of the restaurant to which
he usually went. Mrs. Bothwell's headache, too, that was a piece of
luck, for him, although not, perhaps, for her. He liked the look of
Maggie. He liked her bright face and her laugh and her beautiful,
golden hair. What was that bit again?
_In Belmont is a lady richly left,
And she is fair and fairer than that word
Of wondrous virtue...._
and then again:
_...and her sunny locks
Hang on her temples like a golden fleece._
Maggie came out of the small room, ready for the street, and he sat and
watched her as she shut the door behind her.
"I believe I'm in love," he said to himself. "I believe I am!"
"Are you ready?" he said aloud.
"I've only to draw the blinds and then lock the door!" she replied.
"I'll draw them for you," he said, going over to the windows and
drawing down the blinds as he spoke. "Did you ever see _The Merchant
of Venice_?" he asked when he had done so.
"No," she said.
"There's a bit in it that makes me think of you," he went on.
"Oh, now, don't start plastering me," she exclaimed gaily.
"I mean it," he said, and he quoted the lines about Portia's sunny
"That's poetry." she said.
"It is!" he replied.
"It's queer and nice!"
She opened the door leading to the stairs, and then went back to the
room to turn out the light. The room was in semi-darkness, save where a
splash of yellow light from the staircase fell at the doorway.
He turned towards her as she made her way to the door, and put out his
hand to her. She took hold of it, and as she did so, he caught her
quickly to him and drew her into his arms and kissed her soft, warm
"You're an awful wee fellow," she said, freeing herself from his
embrace and smiling at him.
He did not answer her, but his heart was singing inside him. _I love
her. I know I love her. I love her. I love her. I know I love her._
They went down the stairs together, and as they emerged into the
street, he put his arm in hers and drew, her close to him. Almost he
wished that they were not going to the theatre, that they might walk
like this, arm in arm, for the remainder of the evening. He could still
feel the warmth of her lips on his, and he wished that they could go to
some quiet place so that he might kiss her again. But he had asked her
to go to the theatre, and he did not wish to disappoint her. They
entered the theatre by the Early Door, and sat in the middle of the
front row of the pit. There was a queer silence in the theatre, for the
ordinary doors had not yet opened, and the occasional murmur of a voice
echoed oddly. John put his arm in Maggie's and wound his fingers in
hers, and felt the pressure of her hand against his hand. When the
ordinary doors of the theatre were opened and the crowd came pouring
in, he hardly seemed aware of the people searching for good seats.
Maggie had tried to withdraw her hand from his when she heard the noise
of the people hurrying down the stone steps, but he had not released
her, and she had remained content. And so they sat while the theatre
quickly filled. Presently an attendant with programmes and chocolates
came towards them, and he purchased a box of chocolates for her.
"You shouldn't have done that," she said, making the polite protest.
"I've always heard girls are fond of sweeties," he replied.
He put the box of chocolates in her lap, and opened the programme and
handed it to her.
"It's a long piece," she said, "with a whole lot of acts and scenes in
it. That's the sort of piece I like ... with a whole lot of changes in
"Do you?" he said.
"Yes. I came here one time to see a piece that was greatly praised in
the _Whig_ and the _Newsletter_, and do you know they used
the same scene in every act! I thought it was a poor miserly sort of a
play. The bills said it was a London company, but I don't believe that
was true. They were just letting on to be from London. They couldn't
have had much money behind them when they couldn't afford more nor the
one scene, could they!"
"Mebbe you're right," he answered.
The members of the orchestra came into the theatre, and after a while
the music began. The lights in the theatre were diminished and then
were extinguished, and the curtain went up. John snuggled closer to
He was scarcely aware of the performance on the stage, so aware was he
of the nearness of Maggie. He heard applause, but he did not greatly
heed it. He was in love. He had never been in love before, and he had
always thought of it as something very different from this, something
cold and austere and aloof, and very dignified ... not at all like this
warm, intimate, careless thing. He slipped his hand from Maggie's and
slowly put his arm round her waist. She did not resist him, and when he
drew her more closely to him so that their heads were nearly touching,
she yielded to him without demur. He could feel her heart beating where
his hand pressed against her side, and he heard the slow rise and fall
of her breath as she inhaled and exhaled. He could not get near enough
to her. He wanted to draw her head down on to his shoulder, to put both
his arms about her, to feel again his lips on her lips....
He started suddenly. Someone was tapping him, on the shoulder. He
turned round to meet the gaze of an elderly, indignant woman who was
seated immediately behind him.
"Sit still," she said in a loud whisper. "I can't see the stage for you
two ducking your heads together!"
He took his arm away from Maggie's waist, and edged a little away from
her. He felt angry and humiliated. He told himself that he did not care
who saw him putting his arm about Maggie's waist, but was aware that
this was not true, that he deeply resented being overlooked in his
love-making. He did not wish anyone to behold him in this intimate
relationship with Maggie, and he was full of fury against the woman
behind him because she had seen him fondling her. For of course the
woman knew that he had his arm about Maggie ... and now her neighbours
would know, too. The whole theatre would know that he had been
embracing the girl!... Well, what if they did know? Let them know!
There was no harm in a fellow putting his arm round a girl's waist. It
was a natural thing for a fellow to do, particularly if the girl were
so pretty and warm and loving as Maggie Carmichael. The woman herself
had no doubt had a man's arm round her waist once upon a time. He did
not care who knew!... All the same!... No, he did not care!... He
slipped his hand into Maggie's hand again, and then quickly withdrew
it. She was holding a sticky chocolate in her fingers!...
He lost all interest in the play now. It would be truer, perhaps, to
say that he had not begun to be interested in it, and now that he tried
to follow it, he could not do so. His mind constantly reverted to the
indignant woman behind him. He imagined her looking, first this way and
then that, in her efforts to see the stage, getting angrier and more
angry as she was thwarted in her desire, and then, in her final
indignation, leaning forward to tap on his shoulder and beg him to keep
his head apart from Maggie's so that she might conveniently see the
stage. His sense of violated privacy became stronger. His love for
Maggie, for he accepted it now as a settled fact, was not a thing for
prying eyes to witness: it was a secret, intimate thing in which she
and he alone were concerned. He hated the thought that anyone else in
the theatre should know that Maggie and he were sweethearts, newly in
love and warm with the glow of their first affection. And then, when he
had slipped his hand back into hers, he had encountered a sticky
chocolate! While he was burning with feeling for her and with
resentment against the old woman's intrusion into their love affair,
Maggie had been chewing chocolate quite unconcernedly. In that crisis
of their love, she had remained unmoved. When he had released her hand,
she had simply put it into the box of chocolates and taken out a sticky
sweet and had eaten it with as little emotion as if he had not been
present at all, as if his ardent, pressing arm had not been suddenly
withdrawn from her waist because of that angry intruder into their
happiness. She had taken his hand when he gave it to her, and had
released it again when he withdrew it, without any appearance of desire
or reluctance. He had imagined that she would take his hand eagerly and
yield it up unwillingly, that she would try to restrain him when he
endeavoured to take his hand away from hers ... but she had not done
Perhaps she did not love him as he loved her. Perhaps she did not love
him at all. After all, he had met her for the first time about three
hours earlier in the evening. Only three hours ago! It was hard to
believe that he had not loved her for centuries, had not often felt her
heart beating beneath the pressure of his hand, had not frequently put
his lips to her lips and been enchanted by her kisses. Why, he had only
kissed her once. Only once! Once only!... He looked at her as she sat
by his side, gazing intently at the stage. He could see a protuberance
in her cheek, made by a piece of chocolate, and as he looked at her, it
seemed to him to be a terrible thing that this girl did not love him.
His love had gone out to her, quickly, insurgently and fully, and
perhaps she thought no more of him than she might think of any chance
friend who offered to take her to see a play. She might have spent many
evenings in this very theatre with other men. Had she not told him that
afternoon that she hated to be alone! He had put his arm about her
waist in a public place and had been humiliated for doing so, but
nothing of this had meant much to Maggie. She was quite willing to let
him embrace her ... perhaps she thought that she ought to allow him to
hug her as a return for the treat at the theatre ... or perhaps she
liked to feel a man's arm about her waist and did not much care who the
man might be. Some girls were like that. Willie Logan had told him that
Carrie Furlong was the girl of any fellow who liked to walk up the road
with her. She did not care with whom she went; all that she cared about
was that she should have some boy in her company. She would kiss
Was Maggie Carmichael like that? Would she kiss this one or that one,
just as the mood took her?... Oh, no, she could not be like that. It
was impossible for him to fall in love with a girl who distributed
kisses as carelessly and impassionately as a boy distributes handbills.
He felt certain that he could not fall in love with a girl of that
sort, that some instinct in him would prevent him from going so. Other
fellows might make a mistake of that kind ... Willie Logan, for
example ... but a MacDermott could not make one. Maggie must be in love
with him ... she must have fallen in love with him as suddenly as he had
fallen in love with her ... otherwise she could not have consented so
readily to accompany him to the theatre. When he had taken her in his
arms and kissed her, she had yielded to him so naturally, as if she had
been in his arms many times before!... Perhaps, though, the ease with
which she had yielded to him denoted that she had had much
experience!... Oh, no, no! No, no! She was his girl, not anybody else's
girl. He could not have her for a sweetheart, if she shared her love
with other men. He must have her entirely to himself!...
Oh, what a torturing, doubt-raising, perplexing thing this Love was! A
few hours ago he had known nothing whatever of it ... had merely
imagined cold, austere, wrong things about it ... and now it had hold
of him and was hurting him. Every particle of his mind was concentrated
on this girl by his side ... a stranger to him. He knew nothing of her
except her name and that she was employed as a waitress in a
restaurant. She was a stranger to him ... and yet a fierce,
unquenchable love for her was raging in his heart. Each moment, the
flames of his passion increased in strength. When he looked away from
her, he could see her in his mind's eye. Each of the players on the
stage looked like Maggie.... And there she was, all unaware of this
strong emotion in him, placidly sitting in her seat, gazing at the
actors! Do women feel love as strongly as men do? he asked himself as
he looked at her, and as he did so she turned, her head to him,
conscious perhaps of his stare, and when her eyes met his in the
glowing dusk of the theatre, she smiled, and, seeing her smile, he
forgot his doubt and remembered only the great joy of loving her.
He insisted on taking her to her home, although she stoutly declared
that this was unnecessary. She lived at Stranmillis, she said, and
the journey there and back would make him miss his train; but he swore
that he had plenty of time, and would not listen to her dissuasions.
When they reached the terminus at the Botanic Gardens, she tried to
insist that he should return to town in the tram by which they had come
out, but he said that he must walk with her for a while. She would not
let him accompany her to the door of her home ... he must leave her at
a good distance from it ... and to this he agreed, for he knew what the
etiquette of these matters is. He put his arm in hers, again drawing
her close to him, and, listening to her laughter, he walked in gladness
by her side. It was she who stopped. "I'll say 'Good-night' to you
here," she said.
"Not yet," he replied.
"You'll miss your train," she warned him.
He did not heed her warning, but drew her into the shadow and held her
tightly to him.
"Don't!" she stammered, but could not speak any more because of the
strength of his kisses.
Very long he held her thus, his arms tightly round her and her lips
closebound to his, and then with a great sigh of pleasure, he released
"You're a desperate fellow," she said, half scared, and she laughed a
She glanced about her for a moment. "I must run now," she said, holding
out her hand.
"Not yet," he said again.
"Oh, but I must. I must!" she insisted. "Good-night!"
He took her hand. "Good-night," he replied, but did not let her hand
She laughed nervously. "What's wrong with you?" she said.
"I ... I'm in love with you, Maggie!" he murmured, almost
Her laughter lost its nervousness. "You're a boy in a hurry and a
half!" she said.
"I know. Kiss me, Maggie!"
She held up her face to him. "There, then!" she said.
He kissed her again, and then again, and yet again.
"You're hurting me," she exclaimed ruefully.
"It's because I love you so much, Maggie!" he said.
"Well, let me go now!..." She stood away from him. "You have me all
crumpled up," she said. "I'll be a terrible sight when I get in!
Anybody'd think you'd never kissed a girl before in your life!"
"I haven't," he replied.
"I haven't. I've never kissed any other girl but you!"
"You don't expect me to believe a yarn like that?" she said.
"It's the God's truth," he answered.
"Well, nobody'd think it from the way you behave!"
He regarded her in silence for a few moments. Then he said, "Have you
ever kissed anyone before?"
"I'm twenty-two." she replied.
He had not thought of her age, but if he had done so, he would not have
imagined that she was more than nineteen.
"What's that got to do with it?" he asked.
"A lot," she replied. "You don't think a girl as nice-looking as me has
reached my age without having kissed a fellow, do you?"
"Then you have kissed someone else?"
"I've kissed dozens," she said. "Good-night, John!"
She turned and ran swiftly from him, laughing lightly as she ran, and
for a second or two, he stood blankly looking after her. Then he called
to her, "Wait, Maggie, wait a minute!" and ran after her.
She stopped when she heard him calling, and waited for him to come up
"When'll I see you again?" he said.
"Oh, dear knows!" she replied.
"Will you come to the theatre with me next Saturday?"
"Will you get the day off, and we'll go in the afternoon and evening,
"I mightn't be let," she said. "Mrs. Bothwell mightn't agree to it!"
"Ask her anyway!..."
"I will, then. Good-night, John!"
He snatched at her hand. "Listen, Maggie," he said.
"What?" she answered.
"Do you ... do you like me?"
"Ummm ... mebbe I do!"
"I love you, Maggie!"
"Aye, so you say!" she said.
"Do you not believe me?..."
She shrugged her shoulders.
"It's true," he affirmed. "I love you!..."
"Good-night," she said.
He released her hand, but she did not go immediately. She came close to
him, and put her arms about his neck and drew his face down to hers,
and kissed him.
"You're a nice wee fellow," she said. "I like you queer and well!"
Then she withdrew her arms, and this time he did not try to detain her.
He missed the last train to Ballyards, but he did not mind that. He set
out bravely to walk from Belfast. The silence of the streets, the
deeper silence of the country roads, accorded with the pleasure in his
heart. He sang to himself, and sometimes he sang aloud. He was in love
with Maggie Carmichael, and she ... she liked him queer and well. He
could hardly feel the ground beneath his feet. The road ran away from
him. The moon and the stars shared his exultation, and the trees gaily
waved their branches to him, and the leaves of the trees beat their
hands together in applause. "And her sunny locks Hang on her temples
like a golden fleece," he said aloud...
It was very late when he reached the door of the shop in Ballyards. His
Uncle William was standing in the shade of the doorway, peering
anxiously into the street.
"Is that you, John?" he called out, while John was still some distance
away from the shop.
"Aye, Uncle William," John called out in reply.
Uncle William came to meet him. "Oh, whatever kept you, boy?" he said
when they met.
"I missed the train," John answered.
"Your Uncle Matthew, John!..."
Anxiety came into John's mind. "Yes, Uncle?" he said.
"He's bad, John. Desperate bad! We had to send for Dr. Dobbs an hour
ago, and he's still with him. I thought you'd never reach home!"
All the joy fell straight out of John's heart. He did not speak. He
walked swiftly to the house, and passing through the shop, entered the
kitchen, followed by his Uncle William.
THE FOURTH CHAPTER
"Your ma's upstairs with the doctor and him," said Uncle William,
closing the kitchen door behind him.
"Is he very bad?" John asked in an anxious voice.
"I'm afeard so," Uncle William replied.
John went towards the staircase, but his uncle called him back. "Better
not go up yet awhile," he said. "The doctor'll be down soon, mebbe, and
he'll tell you whether you can go up or not."
"Very well," John murmured, coming back into the kitchen and sitting
down beside the fire.
"It come on all of a sudden just before bedtime," Uncle William went
on, "He wasn't looking too grand all the morning, as you know, but we
never thought much of it. He never was strong, and he hasn't the
strength to fight against his disease. If he dies, I'll be the last of
the three brothers. Death's a strange thing, John. Your da was the
cleverest and the wisest of us all, and he was the first to go; and now
your Uncle Matthew, that's wise in his way, and has a great amount of
knowledge in his head, is going too ... the second of us ... and I'm
left, the one that could be easiest spared. It's queer to take the best
one first and leave the worst 'til the last. You'd near think God had a
grudge against the world!... What were you doing in Belfast the day?"
"I went to the theatre."
"Aye. What did you see?"
"I saw _Romeo and Juliet_ in the middle of the day, and _Julius
Caesar_ at night!" John answered. "Is my Uncle Matthew unconscious?"
"No. He has all his senses about him. He knows well he's dying. Did he
never speak to you about that?"
John shook his head. "I couldn't bear it if he did. Does he mind, d'you
"No, he does not. Why should he mind? It's us that's left behind that's
to be pitied, not them that goes. I can't make out the people of these
days, the way they pity the dead and dying, when it's the living's to
be pitied. Did you like the plays, John?"
John roused himself to answer. "Aye," he said, "they were grand. What
happened when he took bad?"
"We had just had our supper, and he started to go up the stairs, and
all of a sudden he called out for your ma, and we both ran to him
together, her and me, and the look on his face frightened me. I didn't
stop to hear what was wrong. I went off to fetch Dr. Dobbs as quick as
I could move. I never saw _Julius Caesar_ myself, but I mind well
the time I saw _Romeo and Juliet_. It was an awful long time ago,
when the oul' Theatre Royal ... not this one, but the one before it,
that was burnt down ... and we saw _Romeo and Juliet_. That's a
tremendous piece, John! It gripped a hold of my heart, I can tell you,
and I came away from the theatre with the tears streaming down my face.
I always was a soft one, anyway. That poor young boy and his lovely wee
girl tormented and tortured by people that was older nor them, but
hadn't half the sense! It grips you, that play!"
"Aye," said John.
"You'll hardly believe me, John, but the play was so real to me that
when they talked about getting married, I said to myself I'd go and see
the wedding. I did by my troth!"
"Eh?" said John abstractedly.
"I was talking about the play!..."
"Oh, aye, aye! Aye!"
"It sounds silly, I know," Uncle William continued, "but it's the God's
own truth, as sure as I'm sitting here. And whenever I pass 'The
Royal,' I always think of _Romeo and Juliet,_ and I see that poor
boy and girl stretched dead, and them ought to have been happy together
and having fine, strong childher!"
"I wonder how he is now. Do you think I should go up now?" John said.
"Wait 'til the doctor comes down. I have great faith in Dr. Dobbs. He
never humbugs you, that man, but tells you plump and plain what's wrong
with you!" He sat back in his chair, and for a while there was no sound
in the kitchen, but the noise of the clock and the small drooping noise
made by the dying fire. There was no sound from overhead.
Uncle William glanced at the clock. He got up and stopped the pendulum.
"I can't bear the sound of it," he said to John as he sat down again.
They remained in silence for a while longer, and then Uncle William got
up and started the clock again. "Mebbe ... mebbe, it's better for it to
be going." he said.
He searched for his pipe on the mantel-shelf and, when he had found it,
lit it with a coal which he picked out of the fire with the tongs.
"Your Uncle Matthew was terribly upset by it," he said, reverting to
the play. "It was a wild and wet night, we had to walk every inch, of
the way, for there was no late trains in them days, John, and we were
drenched to the skin. Your Uncle Matthew never said one word to me the
whole road home. He just held his head high and stared straight in
front of him, and when I looked at him, though the night was dark, I
could see that his fists were clenched and his lips were moving, though
he didn't speak. You never see no plays like that, these days, John.
The last piece I saw in Belfast was a fearful foolish piece, with a lot
of love and villainy in it. The girl was near drowned in real water,
and then the villain tied her on to a circular saw, and if it hadn't
been for the hero coming in the nick of time, she'd have been cut in
two. No man would treat a woman that way, tying her on to a saw! I'm
afeard some of these pieces nowadays are terribly foolish, John, so I
never want to go now!"
There was a sound of footsteps on the stairs, and presently Dr. Dobbs,
a lean, stooping man, came into the kitchen, followed by Mrs.
MacDermott. The Doctor nodded to John, and Mrs. MacDermott said,
"You're back!" and then went into the scullery from which she soon
returned, carrying a glass with which she hurried upstairs again.
"Your Uncle's been asking for you, John," said the doctor, drawing on
"Can I go up and see him, sir?" John asked.
"In a minute or two. Your mother'll call for you when he's ready. I'm
afraid there's not much hope, William!" the doctor said.
John leant against the mantel-shelf, waiting to hear more. He listened
in a dazed way to what the doctor was saying, but hardly comprehended
it, for in his mind the words, "I'm afraid there's not much hope!" made
echoes and re-echoes. Uncle Matthew was dying, might, in a little
while, be dead. Dear, simple, honest, kindly Uncle Matthew who had
loved literature and good faith too well, and had suffered for his
"He's easier now than he was," the doctor continued, "and he may last a
good while ... and he may not. I _think_ he'll last a while yet,
but he might die before the morning. I want you to be prepared for the
worst. You know where to find me if you want me, William!"
"I've left him in good hands. Your mother's a great nurse, John," he
said, turning to the boy.
"Can I go up to him now, doctor?"
"Yes, I think perhaps ... oh, yes, I think you may. But go up quietly,
will you, in case he's dozed off!..."
John did not wait to hear any more, but, walking on tiptoe, went up the
stairs to his uncle's room.
Uncle Matthew turned to greet him as he entered the room.
"Is that you, John?" he said.
"Yes, Uncle Matthew," John answered, tiptoeing to the side of the bed.
"I'm sorry I wasn't here earlier. I never thought!..."
Uncle Matthew smiled at him. "Sure, son, it doesn't matter. You
couldn't know ... none of us did. Well, was the play good?"
But John did not wish to speak about the play. He wished only to sit by
his Uncle's bed and hold his Uncle's hand.
"I'll go downstairs now for a wee while," Mrs. MacDermott said. "I have
a few things to do, and John can call me if you need me, Matt!"
"Aye, Hannah!" said Uncle Matthew.
John looked up at his mother, but she had turned to leave the room, and
he could not see her face.
He had never heard her call his Uncle by the name of "Matt" before, nor
had he often heard Uncle Matthew use her Christian name in addressing
her. He avoided it, John had observed, as much as possible, and it had
seemed to him that his Uncle did so because of his mother's antagonism
"What are you staring at, John?" Uncle Matthew said feebly.
"She called you 'Matt', Uncle!"
"That's my name," Uncle Matthew replied, smiling at his nephew.
"She used to call me 'Matt' before she was married, and for a wee while
afterwards, when we were all friends together. Your da's death was a
fearful blow to her, and she never overed it. And she thought I was a
bad influence on you, filling your head with stuff out of books. You
see, John, women are not like men ... they don't value things the way
we do ... and things that seem important to us, aren't worth a flip of
your hand to them. And the other way round, I suppose. But a woman
can't be bitter against a sick man, no matter how much she hated him
when he had his health. That's where we have the whiphand of them,
John. They can't stand against us when we're sick, but we can stand up
against anything, well or sick!..."
John remembered his mother's caution that he was not to let his Uncle
"You ought to lie still, Uncle Matthew," he said, but Uncle Matthew
would not heed him.
"I'm as well as I'll ever be." he said. "I know rightly I'll never
leave this bed 'til I'm carried out of it for good and all. And I'm not
going to deny myself the pleasure of a talk for the sake of an extra
day or two!..."
"Wheesht, Uncle Matthew!" John begged.
"Why, son, what's there to cry about? I'm not afeard to die. No
MacDermott was ever afeard to die, and _I_ won't be the first to
give in. Oh, dear, no!"
"But you'll get better, Uncle Matthew, you will, if you'll only take
care of yourself!..."
"Ah, quit blethering John. I won't get better!... What were we saying?
Something about your ma!..."
"Yes. Her calling you 'Matt'!"
"Oh, aye. You'd be surprised, mebbe, to hear that your Uncle William
and me both had a notion of her before your da stepped in and took her
from us? We had no chance against him. That man could have lifted a
queen from a king's bed!..."
"You ought not to be talking so much, Uncle Matthew!"
"Ah, let me talk, John. It's the only comfort I have, and I'll get all
the rest I want by and bye. Was it a girl kept you late the night?"
"How did you know, Uncle Matthew?"
"How did I know!" Uncle Matthew said with raillery. "How would anyone
know anything but by using the bit of wit the Almighty God's put in his
head. What is it makes any lad lose his train, and walk miles in the
dark? It's either women or drink ... and you're no drinker, John. Tell
me about her. I'd like to be the first to know!"
"I only met her the day!..."
"I hardly know her yet ... but she's lovely!"
"Go on ... go on!"
"I took her to the theatre with me to see _Julius Caesar_ and then
I left her home. She lives up near the Lagan ... out Stranmillis
"I know it well," said Uncle Matthew. "Is she a fair girl or a dark
"She has the loveliest golden hair you ever clapped your eyes on. It
was that made me fall in love with her!..."
"You're in love with her then! You're not just going with her?"
"Of course I'm in love with her. I never was in the habit of just going
with girls. That's all right, mebbe, for Willie Logan, but I'm not fond
of it," said John indignantly.
"You fell in love with her in a terrible great hurry," Uncle Matthew
"Aye," said John laughing. "It was queer and comic the way I fell in
love with her, for I had no notion of such a thing when I went in the
shop to have my tea. She's in a restaurant off High Street. I'd been to
the Royal to see _Romeo and Juliet_, and I was full of the play
and just wandering about, not thinking of what I was doing, when all of
a sudden I saw this place fornent my eyes, and I just went in, and she
was there by her lone. The woman that keeps the place had gone home
with a sore head, and left her to look after it!"
"What's her name?"
"Maggie Carmichael. It's a nice name. They don't do much trade on a
Saturday, and her and me were alone in the shop by ourselves so I asked
her to have tea with me, and then I asked her to go to the Royal, and
she agreed after a while, and when it was over, I took her home, and
that's why I missed the train and had to tramp it the whole way home.
She's older nor I am. She says she's twenty-two. She was codding me for
never having kissed any other girl but her!..."
"You got that length, did you?"
"Aye," said John in confusion.
"You're like your da. Take what you want, the minute you want it.
She'll think you're in earnest, John!"
"I am in earnest. I couldn't be any other way. How could a man feel
about a woman, the way I feel about her, and not be in earnest?"
"As easy as winking," said Uncle Matthew. "You'll mebbe be in love a
hundred times before you marry, and every time you'll think it's the
right one at last. There's no law in love, John. You can't say about
it, that you've got to know a woman well before you're safe in marrying
her, nor you can't just shut your eyes and grab hold of the first one
that comes to your hand. There's no law, John ... none at all. It's an
adventure, love. That's what it is. You don't know what lies at the end
of your journey ... and you can't know ... and mebbe when you reach the
end, you don't know. You just have to take your chance, and trust to
God it'll be all right! Is she in love with you?"
"I don't know. I don't suppose so. She made fun of me, so I suppose she
can't be. But she said she liked me."
"Making fun of you is nothing to go by. Some women would make fun of
God Almighty, and think no harm of it. You'll soon know whether she's
in love with you or not, my son!"
"How will I, Uncle Matthew?"
"When she begins to treat you as if you were her property. That's a
sure and certain sign. The minute a woman looks at a man as much as to
say, 'That fellow belongs to me,' she's in love with him, as sure as
death. Anyway, she's going to marry him! Boys-a-boys, John, but you're
the lucky lad with all your youth and health in front of you, and
you setting out in the world. Many's the time I've longed at nights
to be lying snug and comfortable and quiet in a woman's arms, but
I never had that pleasure. Whatever you do, John, don't die an unmarried
man like your Uncle William and me. It's better to live with a cross
sour-natured woman nor it is to live with no woman at all; for even the
worst woman in the world has given a wee while of happiness to her man,
and he always has that in his mind to comfort him however bad she turns
out after. And if she is bad, sure you can run away from her!"
"Run away from her! You'd never advocate the like of that, Uncle
"I would. I'm a dying man, John, and mebbe I'll be dead by the morrow's
morn, so you may be sure I'm saying things now that I mean with all my
heart, for no man wants to go before his God with lies on his lips. And
I tell you now, boy, that if a man and woman are not happy together,
they ought to separate and go away from each other as far as they can
get, no matter what the cost is. Them's my solemn words, John. I'd like
well to see this girl you're after, but I'll mebbe not be able. No
matter for that. Pay heed to me now, for fear I don't get the
opportunity to say it to you again. Whatever adventures you set out on,
never forget they're only adventures, and if one turns out to be bad,
another'll mebbe turn out to be good. Don't be like me, don't let one
thing affect your life for ever!..." He lay back on his pillow for a
few moments and did not speak. John waited a little while, and then he
leant forward. "Will I fetch my ma?" he asked.
Uncle Matthew shook his head and waved feebly with his hand, and John
sat back again in his chair.
"Life's just balancing one adventure against another," Uncle Matthew
said at last, without raising his head from the pillow. "The good
against the bad. And the happy man is him that can set off a lot of
good adventures against bad ones, and have a balance of good ones in
his favour. But it takes courage to have a lot, John. The Jenny-joes of
the world never try again after the first bad one. I ... I was
staggered that time ... I ... I never got my foothold again. The
balance is against me, John!..."
Mrs. MacDermott came into the room.
"It's time you went to your bed, son," she said, "and your Uncle'll
want to get to sleep, mebbe. Are you all right, Matt?"
"I'm nicely, thank you, Hannah!"
John got up from his seat and said "Good-night!" to his Uncle.
"Good-night, John. Mind well what I've said to you!"
"I will, Uncle Matthew!"
"Good-night, son, dear!" said Uncle Matthew, smiling at him.
In the morning, Uncle Matthew was better than he had been during the
night, and Dr. Dobbs, when he called to see him, thought that he would
live for several weeks more. John went down to the kitchen from his
Uncle's room, happy at the thought that his Uncle might recover in
spite of the doctor's statement that death was inevitable within a
short time. Doctors, he told himself, had made many mistakes, and
perhaps Dr. Dobbs was making a mistake about Uncle Matthew.
He had lain late, heavy with fatigue, for Mrs. MacDermott had not
called him at his usual hour and so the morning was well advanced when
he came down.
"There's a letter for you," said Uncle William, pointing to the
mantel-shelf, where a foolscap envelope rested against the clock. "It'll
be about the story, I'm thinking!"
John took the letter in his trembling fingers and tore it open.
"They've sent it back," he said in a low tone.
"There'll be a note with it," Uncle William murmured.
"Yes!..." He straightened out the printed note and read it. "They've
declined it," he said.
"They've what?" Uncle William exclaimed, taking the printed slip from
John's hands. He read the note of rejection through several times.
"What does it say?" Mrs. MacDermott asked.
"It's a queer kind of a note, this!" said Uncle William. "You'd think
the man was breaking his heart at the idea of not printing the story.
He doesn't say anything about it, whether it's good or bad. He just
thanks John for sending it to him and says he's sorry he can't accept
it. If he's so sorry as all that, why the hell doesn't he print it?"
"William!" said Mrs. MacDermott sharply. "This is Sunday!"
"Well, dear knows I don't want to desecrate God's Day," Uncle William
answered, accepting the rebuke, "but that is a lamentable letter to
get. I must say!"
Mrs. MacDermott held her hand out for the letter. "Give it to me," she
said, and she took it from Uncle William.
"This is his way of saying your story's no good, John," she said, when
she had read through the note. "No man would refuse a thing if he
thought it was worth printing!"
Her words hurt John very sorely. He looked at her, but he did not
speak, and then, after a moment or two, he turned away.
"Now, now, that's not right at all," Uncle William said comfortingly.
"There might be a thousand things to prevent the man from printing the
story. Mebbe he doesn't know a good story when he sees it. Sure, half
these papers nowadays print stories that would turn a child's stomach,
and a thing's not bad just because one paper won't take it. There's
other magazines besides _Blackwood's_, John, as good, too, and
mebbe better!" He went over to his nephew and put his hand on the boy's
shoulder. "There, there, now, don't let this upset you! Your Uncle
Matthew was telling me the other day that some of the greatest writers
in the world had their best stories refused time after time. Don't lose
heart over a thing like that!"
"I haven't lost heart, Uncle William. I daresay it isn't as good as I
thought it was, but I'll improve. It wasn't to be expected I'd succeed
the first time!"
"That's the spirit, boy. That's the spirit!"
"Only I'm disappointed all the same. It's likely I don't know enough
"Oh, that's very likely," said Uncle William. "You're only a young
fellow yet, you know!"
"Mebbe that story of mine is full of ignorant mistakes I wouldn't have
made if I'd been about the world a bit and seen more!"
"I daresay you're right! I daresay you're right!..."
Mrs. MacDermott came between them. "What are you leading up to?" she
"I must travel a bit before I start writing things," John answered. "I
must know more and see more. My Uncle Matthew's right. You have to go
out into the world to get adventure and romance!..."
"Can't you get all the adventure and romance you need in this place,
and not go tramping among strangers and foreigners for it?" Mrs.
MacDermott retorted angrily.
"How can I get adventure and romance in a place where I know
everybody?" John rejoined.
"Are you proposing to leave home, John!" Uncle William asked.
"Aye! For a while anyway," John answered, "I'll go to London!..."
"You'll not go to no London," Mrs. MacDermott retorted, "and your
Uncle, Matthew lying on his deathbed!..."
"I'm not proposing to go this minute, ma!..."
"You'll not go at all," she insisted.
"You will not, I tell you. What would a lump of a lad like you do in a
place of that sort, where there's temptation and sin at every corner!
Doesn't everyone know that the Devil's roaming up and down the streets
of London day and night, luring young men to their ruin? There's bad
women in London!..."
"There's bad women everywhere," John replied. "You don't need to be
your age to know that!"
She listened angrily while John explained his point of view to his
Uncle William. Travel and new experiences were necessary to the
development of his mind.
"Don't you go up to Belfast every week!" Mrs. MacDermott interrupted.
"I was in Belfast yesterday," John retorted, "but there wasn't a thing
happened to me, romantic or anything else!..." He stopped abruptly,
smitten by the recollection of his meeting with Maggie Carmichael.
After all, _that_ was a romantic adventure! Most strange that he
had not thought of his love affair in that way before! Of course, it
was a romantic adventure! He had walked straight out of a dull street,
you might say, into an enchanted cafe ... and had found Maggie in
captivity, waiting for him to deliver her from it. She had been
lonely ... and he had come to comfort her. He had taken her from that
dull, cheerless ... prison ... you could call it that!... and had taken
her to a pleasant place and made love to her! Oh, but of course it was a
romantic adventure, with love and a beautiful golden-haired girl at the
end of it. And here he was, moping over the misadventure of a
manuscript and talking of travel in distant places in search of
exciting experiences as if he had not already had the most thrilling
and wonderful adventure that is possible to a man! Why, if he were to
leave Ballyards and go to London, he would lose Maggie ... would not
see her again!... By the Holy O, his mother was right after all! Women
_were_ right sometimes! There was plenty of romance and adventure
lying at your hand, if you only took the trouble to look for it.
Mebbe... mebbe a thing was romantic or not romantic, just according to
the way you looked at it. One man could see romance in a grocer's shop,
and another man could not see romance anywhere but in places where he
had never been!...
"Mebbe you're right, ma," he said.
Mrs. MacDermott looked suspiciously at him. "You changed your mind very
quick," she said.
"I always change my mind quick," he replied.
They heard the noise of tapping overhead.
"That's your Uncle Matthew," said Mrs. MacDermott, rising from her
"I'll go," John exclaimed hastily. "It's mebbe me he wants!"
He ran quickly up the stairs and entered his Uncle's room.
"Yes, Uncle Matthew?" he said.
"I heard you all talking together," Uncle Matthew answered. "What's
"Oh, nothing! My story's been refused. That's all."
Uncle Matthew put out his hand and took hold of John's. "Are you very
disappointed?" he said.
"Yes, I am. I made sure they'd take it!"
"There ought to have been a woman in it. You know, John, I told you
that. There was no love in that story, and people like to read about
love. That's natural. Sure, it's the beginning of everything!"
"I didn't know anything about it then, Uncle!..."
"No, but you do now ... a wee bit ... and you might have imagined it.
You'd never be your father's son, if you hadn't a heart brimful of
love. What else were you talking about?"
John told his Uncle of his proposal to go to London in search of
"Aye, you'll have to do that some day," his Uncle replied, "but there's
no hurry yet awhile. You'd better finish your schooling first, and you
could go on writing here 'til you get more mastery of it. You might try
to write a book, and then when it's done, you could go to London or
somewhere. I'd be sorry if you went just now!..."
"I'm not meaning to go yet, Uncle!"
"Very good, son. I'd like you to be here when I ... when!..."
He did not finish his sentence, but the pressure of his hand on John's
"Eh, John?" he said.
"Yes, Uncle Matthew!" John replied. He quickly changed the
conversation. "You're looking a lot better," he said.
Uncle Matthew smiled. "Oh, aye," he replied, "I feel a lot better, too.
I'll mebbe beat the doctor yet. He thinks I'm done for, but mebbe I'll
teach him different!"
"You will, indeed. And why wouldn't you? You're young yet!"
Uncle Matthew did not reply to this. He turned on his pillow and
glanced towards the dressing-table.
"Are you looking for anything?" John asked.
"Is there a book there?"
"No," John said. "Do you want one?"
"Your ma read a wee bit to me in the night, after you went to bed. I
thought mebbe you'd read a wee bit more to me. _Willie Reilly_, it
"I'll get it for you," John replied, going to the door. He called to
his mother, and she told him that she had brought the book downstairs
"Wait a minute and I'll fetch it," she said.
She returned in a moment or two, carrying the book in her hand, and
mounted half-way up the staircase to meet him. She pointed to a place
in the book. "I read up to there to him in the night," she said. John
looked at his mother, as he took the book from her hands, and saw how
tired she looked.
"Did you not get any sleep at all, ma?" he asked with concern.
"I'm all right, son," she answered.
"No, you're not," he insisted. "You'll just go to your bed this minute
and lie down for a while!..."
"And the dinner to cook and all," she interrupted.
"Well, after your dinner then. You'll lie down the whole afternoon.
Uncle William and me'll get the tea ready, and we'll take it in turns
to look after Uncle Matthew!"
She stood on the step beneath him, looking at him with dark, tired
eyes, and then she put out her hand and touched him on the shoulder.
"You'll not leave me, John?" she pleaded.
"No, ma," he answered. "Not for a long while yet!"
She turned away from him and went down the stairs again.
John returned to his Uncle's room, and sat down by the side of the bed.
He opened the book and began to read of Willie Reilly and his Colleen
Bawn. Now and then he glanced at his Uncle and wondered at the
childlike and innocent look on his face. There was a strange simplicity
in his eyes ... not the simplicity of those who have not got
understanding, but of those who have a deep and unchangeable knowledge
that is very different from the knowledge of other men; and once again
John assured himself that while Uncle Matthew's behaviour might be
"quare" when compared with that of other people, yet it was not foolish
behaviour nor the behaviour of the feeble-minded: it was the conduct of
a man who responded immediately to simple and honest emotions, who did
not stop to consider questions of discretion or interest, but did the
thing which seemed to him to be right.
"What are you thinking of, Uncle Matthew?" he said suddenly, putting
down the book, for it seemed to him that his Uncle was no longer
"I was thinking I wouldn't have missed my life for the wide world!"
Uncle Matthew replied.
"After everything?" John asked.
"Aye, in spite of everything," said Uncle Matthew. "There's great value
in life ... great value!"
John picked up the book again, but he did not begin to read, nor did
Uncle Matthew show any signs that he wished the reading to be resumed.
"Our minds go this way and that way," Uncle Matthew went on, "and some
of us are not happy 'til we're away here and there!..."
"You were always wanting to be off after adventures yourself, Uncle
"Aye, John, I was, and I never went. I've oftentimes thought little of
myself for that, but I'm wondering now, lying here, whether it wasn't a
great adventure to stop at home. I don't know! I don't know! But I'll
know in a wee while! John!"
"I wouldn't change places with the King of England, at this minute, not
for all the money in the mint and my weight in gold!"
"Why, Uncle Matthew?"
"Do you know why? Because in a wee while, I'll know all there is to
know, and he'll be left here knowing no more nor the rest of you. God
is good, John. He shares out his knowledge without favour to anyone.
The like of us'll know as much in the next world as the like of
When the sharper anxieties concerning Uncle Matthew had subsided,
John's mind was filled with thoughts of Maggie Carmichael. It seemed to
him to be impossible that any seven days in the history of the world
had been so long in passing as the seven days which separated him from
his next meeting with her. His work at the Ballyards National School
lost any interest it ever had for him: the pupils seemed to be at once
the stupidest and laziest and most aggravating children on earth.
Lizzie Turley completely lost her power to add two and one together and
make three of them. Strive as he might, he could not make her
comprehend or remember that two and one, when added together, did not
amount to five. There was even a dreadful day when she lost her power
to subtract.... Miss Gebbie, the teacher to whom he was most often
monitor, had always had hard, uncouth manners, but they became almost
intolerable before the seven days had passed by ... and it seemed
certain that there must be a crisis in her life and in his before the
clock struck three on Friday afternoon! If she complained again, he
said to himself, about the way in which he marked the children's
exercise books, he would tell her in very plain language what he