"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 chair.
"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 happened?"
"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 experience.
"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 increased.
"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 was."
"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 with her.
"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 listening.
"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 Matthew!"
"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 them!..."
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 thought of her and her big bamboo-cane. When she slapped the children, the corners of her mouth went down and her large lips tightened and a cruel glint came into her eyes!...
It was only during the reading half-hour that his mind was at ease in school that week, for then he could let his thoughts roam from Ballyards to Belfast, and fill his eyes with visions of Maggie. The droning voices of the children, reading "Jack has got a cart and can draw sand and clay in it," were almost soothing, and it was sufficient for supervision, if now and then, he would call out, "Next!" The child who was reading would instantly stop, and the child next to her would instantly begin....
It seemed to him that he had the clearest impressions of Maggie Carmichael, and yet had also the vaguest impressions of her. He remembered very distinctly that she had bright, laughing eyes, and that her hair was fair, and that she had pretty teeth: white and even. He had often read in books of the beauty of a woman's teeth, but he had never paid much attention to them. After all, what was the purpose of teeth? To bite. It was ridiculous, he had told himself, to talk and write of beauty in teeth when all that mattered was whether they could bite well or not.... But now, remembering the beauty of Maggie Carmichael's mouth, he saw that the writers had done well when they insisted on the beauty of teeth. Any sort of a good tooth would do for biting and chewing, but there was something more than that to be said for good, white, even teeth. If teeth were of no value otherwise than for biting and chewing, false teeth were better than natural teeth!... And false teeth were so hideous to look at; so smug, so self-conscious. Aggie Logan had false teeth. So had Teeshie McBratney and Sadie Cochrane. Things with pale gums!...
He had wanted to kiss Maggie Carmichael's teeth, so beautiful were they. Just her teeth. It had been splendid to kiss her lips, but then one always kissed lips. Men, according to the books, even kissed hair and ears and eyes. He had read recently of a man who kissed a woman on the neck, just behind the ear; and at the time he had thought that this was a very queer thing to do. Love, he supposed, was responsible for a thing like that. He could not account for it in any other way. He understood now, of course. When a man loved a woman, every part of her was very dear and beautiful to him, and to kiss her neck just behind the ear was as exquisite as to kiss her lips. No one, in any of the books he had read, had wished to kiss a woman's teeth. There were still hidden joys in kissing ... and he had discovered one of them. He would kiss Maggie's teeth on Saturday. He would kiss her lips, too, of course, and her hair and her eyes and ears and the part of her neck that was just behind her ear, but most of all he would kiss her teeth!...
He thought that it was very strange that he should think so ardently of kissing Maggie. He could have kissed Aggie Logan dozens of times, but he had never had the slightest desire to kiss her. He remembered how foolish he had thought her that night at the soiree when someone proposed that they should play Postman's Knock. Aggie Logan had called him out to the lobby. There was a letter for him, she said, with three stamps on it. Three stamps! Did anyone ever hear the like of that? And he was to go into the lobby and give her three kisses, one after the other ... peck, peck, peck ... and then it would be his turn to call for someone, and Aggie would expect him to call for her! ... Willie Logan had called for a girl. He had a letter for her with fifty stamps on it ... A great roar of laughter had gone up from the others when they heard of the amount of the postage, and Willie was thought to be a daring, desperate fellow ... until the superintendent of the Sunday School said that there must be reason in all things and proposed a limit of three stamps on each letter ... no person to be called for more than twice in succession. Willie, boisterous and very amorous, whispered to John that he did not care what limit they made ... no one could tell how many extra stamps you put on your letter out in the lobby....
John had not answered Aggie's call. He had contrived to get out of the school-room without being observed, and Aggie had been obliged to call for someone else. Kissing!... Kiss her!... Three stamps!... Peck, peck, peck!...
Wednesday dragged itself out slowly and very reluctantly; Thursday was worse than Wednesday; and Friday was only saved from being as bad as Thursday by its nearness to Saturday. On the morrow, he would see Maggie again. Many times during the week, he had debated with himself as to whether he should write to her or not, but the difficulty of knowing what to say to her, except that he loved her and was longing for the advent of Saturday, prevented him front doing so. In any case, it would be difficult to write to her without questions from his mother, and if Maggie were to reply to him, there would be no end to the talk from her. After all, a week was only a week. On Monday, a week had seemed to be an interminable period of time, but on Friday, it had resumed the normal aspect of a week, a thing with a definite and reachable end. It was odd to observe how, as the week drew to its close, the intolerable things became tolerable. Miss Gebbie seemed to be a little less inhuman on Friday than she had been on Monday, and Lizzie Turley marvellously recovered her power to add two and one together and get the correct result. Beyond all doubt, he was in love. There could not be any other explanation of his behaviour and his peculiar impatience. That any man should conduct himself as he had done during the week now ending, for any other reason than that he was in love, was impossible. Why, he woke up in the morning, thinking of Maggie, and he went to sleep at night, thinking of Maggie. He thought of her when he was at school, and he thought of her in the street, in the shop, in the kitchen, even in his Uncle Matthew's room. When it was his turn to sit by Uncle Matthew's side, his mind, for more than half the time, was in Belfast with Maggie. He had read more than a hundred pages of Willie Reilly to his Uncle, but he had not comprehended one of them. He had been thinking exclusively of Maggie.
He wondered whether he would always be in this state of absorption. Other people fell in love, as he knew, but they seemed to be able to think of other things besides their love. Perhaps they were not so much in love as he was! He began to see difficulties arising from this great devotion of his to Maggie. It would be very hard to concentrate his mind on a story if it were full of thoughts of her. He would probably spoil any work he attempted to do, because his mind would not be on it, but away with Maggie. In none of the books he had read, had he seen any account of the length of time a pair of lovers took in which to get used to each other and to adjust their affections to the ordinary needs of life. He would never cease to love Maggie, of course, but he wondered how long it would be before his mind would become capable of thinking of Maggie and of something else at the same time ... or even of thinking of something else without thinking of Maggie at all....
His mother had looked dubiously at him when he talked of going to Belfast on Saturday. She said that he ought not to leave home while his Uncle Matthew was so ill, but Dr. Dobbs had given a more optimistic opinion on the sick man's condition, and so, after they had argued over the matter, she withdrew her objection. Uncle William had insisted that John ought to go up to the city for the sake of the change. The lad had had a hard week, what with his school work and his writing and his attention to Uncle Matthew, and the change would be good for him. "Only don't miss the train this time," he added to John.
Maggie met him outside the theatre. He had not long to wait for her, and his heart thrilled at the sight of her as she came round Arthur's Corner.
"So you have come," she said to him, as she shook hands with him.
"Did you think I wouldn't?" he answered.
"Oh, well," she replied, "you never know with fellows! Some of them makes an appointment to meet you, and you'd think from the way they talk about it that they were dying to meet you; and then when the time comes, you might stand at the corner 'til your feet were frozen to the ground, but not a bit of them would turn up. I'd never forgive a boy that treated me that way!"
"I'm not the sort that treats a girl that way," said John.
"Oh, indeed you could break your word as well as the next! Many's a time I've give my word to a fellow and broke it myself, just because I didn't feel like keeping it. But it's different for a girl nor it is for a fellow. There's no harm in a girl disappointing a fellow. I hear this piece at the Royal is awfully good this week. It's about a girl that nearly gets torn to pieces by a mad lion. I don't know whether I like that sort of piece or not. It seems terrible silly, and it would be awful if the hero come on a minute or two late and the girl was ate up fornent your eyes!"
John laughed. "There's not much danger of that," he replied.
There were very few people waiting outside the Pit Door, and so they were able to secure good seats with ease. "The best of coming in the daytime," John said, "is you have a better chance of the front row than you have at night!"
She nodded her head. "But it's better at night," she answered. "A piece never seems real to me in the daylight."
"Where'll we go to-night?" he said to her.
"Oh, I can't go with you to-night again," she exclaimed, taking a chocolate from the box which he had bought for her.
"I have another appointment!..."
"Break it," he commanded.
"I couldn't do that!..."
"Oh, yes, you could," he insisted. "You told me yourself you'd disappointed fellows many's a time!"
"I daresay I did, but I can't break this one," she retorted.
Suspicion entered his mind. "Is it with another fellow?" he asked.
"Ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies," she said.
"Is it?" he demanded.
"And what if it is?"
"I don't want you to go out with anybody else but me!"
She ate another chocolate. "Have one?" she said, passing the box to him. He shook his head moodily. "Are you going to do what I ask or are you not?" he said.
"Don't be childish," she replied. "I've promised a friend to go to a concert to-night, and I'll have to go. That's all about it!"
"Is it a fellow?"
"Mebbe it is and mebbe it's not!" she teased.
"You know I'm in love with you!" She laughed lightly, and he bent his head closer to her. "Listen, Maggie," he went on, "I know I only met you for the first time last Saturday, but I'm terrible in love with you. Listen! I want to marry you, Maggie!..."
She burst out laughing.
"Don't make a mock of me," he pleaded.
She turned to look at him. "What age are you?" she demanded.
"I'm near nineteen," he answered.
"And I'm twenty-two," she retorted. "Twenty-two past, I am. Four years older nor you!..."
"That doesn't matter," he insisted.
"It wouldn't if the ages was the other way round ... you twenty-two and me nineteen!"
"It doesn't matter what way they are. It's not age that matters: it's feeling!"
"You'll feel different, mebbe, when you're a bit older. What would people say if I was to marry you now, after meeting you a couple of times, and you four years younger nor me?"
"It doesn't matter what they'd say," he replied. "Sure, people are always saying something!"
She ruminated! "I like going out with you well enough, and you're a queer, nice wee fellow, but it's foolish talk to be talking of getting married. What trade are you at?"
"I'm a monitor," he answered. "I'm in my last year!..."
"You're still at the school," she said.
"I'm a monitor," he replied, insisting on his status.
"Och, sure that's only learning. When in the earthly world would you be able to keep a wife?"
"I'm going to write books!..."
"What sort of books?"
"Story books," he said.
"Have you writ any yet?"
"No, but I wrote a short story once!"
She looked at him admiringly. "How much did you get for it?" she asked.
"I didn't get anything for it," he replied. "They wouldn't take it!"
She remained silent for a few moments. Then she said, "Your prospects aren't very bright!"
"But they'll get brighter," he said. "They will. I tell you they will!"
"When?" she asked.
"Some day," he answered.
"Some day may be a long day in coming," she went on. "I might have to wait a good while before you were able to marry me. Five or six years, mebbe, and then I'd be getting on to thirty, John. You'd better be looking out for a younger girl nor me!"
"I don't want anybody else but you," he replied.
When the play was over, they walked arm in arm towards the restaurant where she was employed. "I promised Mrs. Bothwell we'd have our tea there," Maggie said to John. "It put her in a sweet temper, the thought of having two customers for certain. She'll mebbe give up that place. It's not paying her well. She wasn't going to give me the time off at first, but I told you were my cousin up from the country for the day!..."
"But I'm not your cousin," John objected.
"That doesn't matter. Sure, you have to tell a wee bit of a lie now and again, or you'd never get your way at all. And it saves bother and explaining!"
They crossed High Street and were soon at the foot of the stairs leading up to Bothwell's Restaurant. "Mind," said Maggie in a whisper, "you're my cousin!"
He did not speak, but followed her up the stairs and into the restaurant where she introduced him to a plain, stoutly-built, but cheerless woman who came from the small room into the large one as they entered it. There was one customer in the room, but he finished his tea and departed soon after Maggie and John arrived. In a little while, she and he were eating their meal. John politely asked Mrs. Bothwell to join them, but she declined.
She sat at a neighbouring table and talked to them of the play.
"I don't know when I was last at a theatre," she said, "and I don't know when I'll go again. I always say to myself when I come away, 'Well, that's over and my money's spent and what satisfaction have I got for it?' And when I think it all out, there doesn't seem to be any satisfaction. You've spent your money, and the play's over, and that's all. It seems a poor sort of return!'"
"You might say that about anything," John said. "A football match or ... or one of these nice wee cookies of yours!"
"Oh, indeed, you might," Mrs. Bothwell admitted. "Sure, there's no pleasure in the world that's lasting, and mebbe if there were we wouldn't like it. You pay your good money for a thing, and you have it a wee while, and then it's all over, and you have to pay more money for something else. Or mebbe you have it a long while, only you're not content with it. That's the way it always is. There's very little satisfaction to be got out of anything. Look at the Albert Memorial! That looks solid enough, but there's people says it'll tumble to the ground one of these days with the running water that's beneath it!"
Maggie took a big bite from a cookie. "Oh, now, there's satisfaction in everything," she said, "if you only go the right way about getting it and don't expect too much. I always say you get as much in this world as you're able to take ... and it's true enough. I know I take all in the way of enjoyment that I can put my two hands on. There's no use in being miserable, and it's nicer to be happy!"
"You're mebbe right." said Mrs. Bothwell. "But you can't just be miserable or happy when you like. I can't anyway!"
"You should try," said Maggie.
Mrs. Bothwell went to the small room and did not return. John was glad that her dissatisfaction with the universe did not make her oblivious of the fact that Maggie and he were content enough with each other's company and did not require the presence of a third party.
He leant across the table and took hold of one of Maggie's hands. "You've not answered my question yet?" he said.
"What question?" she said.
"About going out with me," he replied.
"I'll go to the Royal with you next Saturday," she said.
"Ah, but for good! I mean it when I say I want to marry you!..."
"You're an awful wee fool," she exclaimed, drawing her hand from his and slapping him playfully.
"Yes. I thought at first you were having me on, but I think now you're only a wee fool. But I like you all the same!"
"Am I a fool for loving you?" he demanded.
"Oh, no, not for that, but for knowing so little!"
"Marry me, Maggie," he pleaded.
"Wheesht," she said, "Mrs. Bothwell will hear you!..."
"I don't care who hears!..."
"But I do," she interrupted. "You're an awful one for not caring. You've said that more nor once to-day!" She glanced at the clock. "I'll have to be going soon," she said.
"No, not yet awhile!..."
"But I will. I'll be late if I stop!..."
She began to draw on her gloves as she spoke.
"Well, when will I see you again?" he asked.
"Next Saturday if you like!..."
"Can I not see you before? I could come up to Belfast on Wednesday!..."
"I'm engaged on Wednesday," she said.
"Och, quit butting," she retorted. "I'll see you on Saturday and no sooner. Pay Mrs. Bothwell and come on!..."
She insisted on leaving him at the Junction, and he moodily watched her climbing into a tram. She waved her hand to him as the tram drove off, and he waved his in reply. And then she was gone, and he had a sense of loss and depression. He stared gloomily about him. What should he do now? He might go to the Opera House or to one of the music-halls or he might just walk about the streets....
He thought of what Mrs. Bothwell had said earlier in the day. "There's very little satisfaction in anything!"
"There's a lot in that," he said to himself. "I'll go home," he continued. "There's no pleasure in mouching round the town by yourself!"
He got into a tram and was soon at the railway station. On the platform, a little way in front of him, he saw Willie Logan, flushed and excited, with two girls, one on either side of him. Willie had an arm round each girl's waist.
"That fellow's getting plenty of fun anyway," John said, as he climbed into an empty carriage. He did not wish to join Willie's party. He knew too well what Willie was like: a noisy, demonstrative fellow, indiscriminately amorous. "Nearly every girl's worth kissing," Willie had said to him on one occasion. "If you can't get your bit of fun with one woman, sure you can get it with another!"
Willie, in the carriage, would kiss one girl, John knew, and then would turn and kiss the other, "just to show there's no ill will." He might even invite John to kiss them in turn ... so that John might not feel uncomfortable and "out of it." He would lie back in the carriage, his big face flushed and his eyes bright with pleasure, an arm round each of his companions, and when he was not kissing them, he would be bawling out some song, or, at stations, hanging half out of the window to chaff the porters and the station-master. "Get all you can," he would say, "and do without the rest!"
But John was not a promiscuist: he was a monopolist. He put the whole of his strength into his love for one woman, and he demanded a similar singleness of devotion from her. His mind was full of Maggie, but he felt that she had cast him out of her mind the moment that the tram bore her out of his sight.
"I'll make her want me," he said, tightening his fists. "I'll make her want me 'til she's heartsore with wanting!"
THE FIFTH CHAPTER
Uncle Matthew died three days later. He slipped out of life without ostentation or murmur. "The MacDermotts are not afeard to die," he had said to John at the beginning of his illness, and in that spirit he had died. In the morning, he had asked Mrs. MacDermott to look for Don Quixote in the attic and bring it to him, and she had done so. He had tried to read the book, but it was too heavy for him—his strength was swiftly going from him—and it had fallen from his hands on to the quilt and then had rolled on to the floor.
"I can't hold it," he murmured.
"Will I read it to you?" she said to him.
"Yes, if you please!" he said.
It was a badly-bound book, printed in small, eye-tormenting type, and it was difficult to hold; but she made no complaint of these things, and for an hour or so, she read to Uncle Matthew. She put the book down when his breathing denoted that he was asleep, but she did not immediately go from the room. She sat for a time, looking at the delicate face on the pillow, and then she picked the book up again and began to examine it, turning the pages over slowly, reading here and reading there, and examining the illustrations closely. There was a puzzled look on her face, and the flesh, between her eyebrows was puckered and deeply lined. She put the book down on her lap and looked intently in front of her, as if she were considering some problem. She picked the book up again, and once more turned over the pages and examined the pictures; but she did not appear to find any solution of her problem as she did so, for she put the book down on the dressing-table and left it there. She bent over the sleeping man for a few moments, listening to his breathing, and then she went out of the room leaving the door ajar.
And while she was downstairs, Uncle Matthew died. He had not wakened from his sleep. He seemed to be exactly in the same position as he was when she left the room. He was not breathing ... that was all. She called to Uncle William, and he came quickly up the stairs.
"Is anything wrong?" he said anxiously.
"Matt's dead!" she replied.
He stood still.
"Shut the shop," she said, "and send for John and the doctor!"
He did not move.
She touched him on the shoulder. "Do you hear me, William?"
He started. "Aye," he said, "I hear you right enough!"
But he still remained in the room, gazing blindly at his brother. Then he went over to the bed and sat down and cried.
"Poor William!" said Mrs. MacDermott, putting her arms around him.
John wrote to Maggie Carmichael to tell her of his Uncle's death. It would not be possible for him to keep his engagement with her on the following Saturday. She sent a thinly-written note of sympathy to him, telling him that she would not expect to see him for a while because of his bereavement. "You'll not be in the mood for enjoying yourself at present," she wrote, "and I daresay you would prefer to stay at home at present. I expect you'll miss your Uncle terribly!—"
Indeed, he did miss his Uncle terribly!
There was a strange quietness in the house before the day of the burial, which was natural, but it was maintained after Uncle Matthew had been put in the grave where John's father lay. Uncle William's quick, loud voice became hushed and slow and sometimes inaudible, and Mrs. MacDermott went about her work with few words to anyone. John had come on her, an hour or two before the coffin lid was screwed down, putting a book in Uncle Matthew's hands. He saw the title of it ... Don Quixote ... and he said to her, "What are you doing, ma?" She looked up quickly and hesitated. "Nothing!" she answered, and suddenly aware that she did not wish to be observed, he went away and left her alone. It seemed to him afterwards that she resented his knowledge of what she had done ... that she looked at him sometimes as if she were forbidding him ever to speak of it ... but she did not talk of it. She spoke as seldom as Uncle William did, and it seemed to John that the voice had been carried out of the house when Uncle Matthew had been carried to the graveyard. He felt that he could not endure the oppression of this silence any longer, that he must, speak to someone, and, in his search for comfort, his mind wandered in search of Maggie Carmichael with intenser devotion than he had ever experienced before. If only Uncle Matthew were alive, John could talk to him of Maggie. Uncle Matthew would listen to him. Uncle Matthew always had listened to him. He had never shown any impatience when John had talked to him of this scheme and that scheme, and he would not have mocked his love for Maggie. How queer a thing it was that Uncle Matthew who had seemed to be the least important person in the house should have so ... so stifled the rest of them by his death!
Uncle William, who bore the whole burden of maintaining the family, mourned for Uncle Matthew as if he had lost his support; and Mrs. MacDermott began to talk, when she talked at all, of the things that Matt had liked. Matt liked this and Matt liked that ... and yet she had seemed not merely to disregard Uncle Matthew when he was alive, but actually to dislike him. Uncle Matthew must have had a stronger place in the house than any of them had imagined. John could not bear to go to the attic now, although he wished to turn over the books which were now his. It was in the attic that Uncle Matthew had found most of his happiness, in the company of uncomplaining, unreproachful books, and the memory of that happiness had drawn John to the attic one day when he most missed his Uncle. He had handled the books very fondly, turning over pages and pausing now and then to read a passage or two ... and while he had turned the pages of an old book with faded, yellow leaves, he had found a cutting from a Belfast newspaper. It contained a report of the police proceedings against Uncle Matthew, and it was headed, STRANGE BEHAVIOUR OF A BALLYARDS MAN!... John hurriedly put the book down and went out of the room. He had not shed a tear over Uncle Matthew. He did not wish to cry over him. He felt that Uncle Matthew would like his mourners to have dry eyes ... but it was hard not to cry when one read that bare, uncomprehending account of Uncle Matthew's chivalrous act. Strange behaviour, the reporter named it, when every instinct in John demanded that it should be called noble behaviour. Was a man to be called a fool because his heart compelled him to perform an act of simple loyalty?... Strange behaviour! John seized the cutting and crumpled it in his hand. Then he straightened it out again and tore it in pieces. Were people so poor in faith and devotion that they could not recognise the nobility of what Uncle Matthew had done? And for that act of goodness, Uncle Matthew had gone to his grave under stigma. "Poor sowl," they said in Ballyards, "it's a merciful release for him. He was always quare in the head!"
John could not stay in the house with his memories of Uncle Matthew, and so he went for walks along the shores of the Lough, to Cubbinferry and Kirklea or turning coastwards, towards Millreagh and Holmesport; but there was no comfort to be found in these walks. He returned from them, tired in body, but unrested in mind. He tried to write another story, but he had to put the pen and ink and paper away again, and he told himself that he had no ability to write a story. Wherever he went and whatever he did, the loss of Uncle Matthew pressed upon him and left him with a sense of impotence, until at last, his nature, weary of its own dejection, turned and demanded relief. And so he set his thoughts again on Maggie Carmichael, and each day he found himself, more and more, thinking of her until, after a while, he began to think only of her. He had written to her a second time, but she had not answered his letter. He remembered that she had protested against her incompetence as a correspondent. "I'm a poor hand at letter-writing," she had said laughingly. She could talk easily enough, but she never knew what to put in a letter, and anyhow it was a terrible bother to write one. A letter would be a poor substitute for her, he told himself. He must see her soon. Mourning or no mourning, he would go to Belfast on the next Saturday and would see her. It would not be possible for him to take her to a theatre, but she and he could go for a long walk or they could sit together in the restaurant and talk to each other. This loneliness and silence was becoming unendurable: he must get away from the atmosphere of loss and mourning into an atmosphere of life and love. Uncle Matthew would wish him to do that. He felt certain that Uncle Matthew would wish him to do that. Uncle Matthew would hate to think of his nephew prowling along the roads in misery and suffering when his whole desire had been that he should have opportunity and satisfaction. He had bequeathed his property and his money "to my beloved nephew John MacDermott," and John had been deeply moved by the affection that glowed through the legal phraseology of the will. It was not yet known how much money there would be, for Mr. McGonigal, the solicitor, had not completed his account of Uncle Matthew's affairs; but the amount of it could not be very large. That was immaterial to John. What mattered to him was that his Uncle's love for him had never flickered for a moment, but had shone steadily and surely until the day of his death.
"I never told anyone but him about Maggie," John thought. "I'm glad I told him ... and I know he'd want me to go to her now!"
And so, late on Friday evening, he resolved that he would go to Belfast on the following day. He sent a short note to Maggie, addressing it to the restaurant, in which he told her that he would call for her on Saturday. He begged that she would go for a walk with him. "We might go to the Cave Hill," he wrote, "and be back in plenty of time for tea!"
He crossed the Lagan in the ferry-boat, so impatient was he to get quickly to Maggie, but when he reached the restaurant, Maggie was not there. He stood in the doorway, looking about the large room, but there was no one present, for it was too early yet for mid-day meals. Maggie was probably engaged in the small room at the back of the restaurant and would presently appear. It was Mrs. Bothwell who came to answer his call.
"Oh, good morning!" he said, trying to keep the note of disappointment out of his voice.
"Good morning," she answered.
"It's a brave day!"
"It's not so bad," she grudgingly admitted.
"Is ... is Maggie in?" he asked.
"In!" she exclaimed, looking at him with astonishment plain on her face.
"Yes. Isn't she in? She's not sick or anything, is she?" he replied anxiously.
"Oh, dear bless you, no! She's not sick," Mrs. Bothwell said. "Do you mean to say you don't know where she is?"
"No, I ... I don't, Mrs. Bothwell!" There was a note of apprehension in his voice. "I thought, she'd be here!"
"But haven't you been to the house?"
"No," he answered. "I've just arrived from Ballyards this minute. What's wrong, Mrs. Bothwell!"
"There's nothing wrong that I know of. Only I don't understand you not knowing about it. Why aren't you at the church?"
"Aye. Sure, I'd be there myself only I can't leave the shop. I'm glad she's getting a fine day for it anyway!"
John touched her on the arm. "I don't understand what you're talking about, Mrs. Bothwell," he said. "What's happening!"
"Didn't you know she's being married the day on a policeman?..."
"Married!" he exclaimed incredulously.
"Aye. She's been going with him this long while back, and now that he's been promoted ... they've made him a sergeant ... they've got married. She's done well for herself. How is it you didn't know about it, and you and her such chums together?"
"Did I hear you saying she's getting married the day?" he murmured, gazing at her in a stupefied fashion.
"That's what. I keep on telling you," she replied, "only you don't pay no heed to me. I thought you were her cousin!..."
"No, I'm not her cousin," he answered. "I was ... I was going with her. That's all. I'm sorry to have bothered you, Mrs. Bothwell!"
"Oh, it's no bother at all. She must have been having you on, for the banns was up at St. George's this three weeks!..."
"St. George's!" he repeated.
"Aye, these three weeks. She had a fancy to be married in St. George's Church, for all it's a ritualistic place, and people says they're going fast to Popery there. But I don't wonder at her, for it's quare and nice to see the wee boys in their surplices, singing the hymns!..."
He interrupted her. "Three weeks ago," he said, as if calculating. "That must have been soon after I met her for the first time. I met her here in this room, Mrs. Bothwell. I'd been to the Royal to see a play, and I came in here for my tea, and I struck up to her for I liked her look!..."
"Oh, she's a nice enough looking girl is Maggie, though looks is not everything," Mrs. Bothwell interjected.
"She never told me!..."
"Oh, well, if it comes to that, you never told her anything about yourself, did you?" Mrs. Bothwell demanded. "I suppose she thought you were just a fellow out for a bit of fun, and she might as well have a bit of fun, too!"
"But I wasn't out for fun," he exclaimed. "I was in earnest!"
"That's where you made your mistake," said Mrs. Bothwell. "I'm sorry for you, but sure you're young enough not to take a thing like that to heart, and she's not the only girl in the world by a long chalk. By the time you're her age, she'll have a child or two, and'll mebbe be feeling very sorry for herself ... and you'll have the world fornent you still! A young fellow like you isn't going to let a wee thing like that upset you?"
"It isn't a wee thing, Mrs. Bothwell. It's a big thing," he insisted.
"Och, sure, everything's big looking 'til you see something bigger. One of these days you'll be wondering what in the earthly world made you think twice about her!"
He turned away from her and moved towards the door, but suddenly he remembered the letter which he had written to Maggie on the previous evening.
"Did a letter for her come this morning?" he said, turning again to Mrs. Bothwell. "I wrote to her last night to tell her I was coming up the day!"
"One did come," she answered. "I put it in the kitchen, intending to re-address it when I had a minute to spare. I'll go and get it. I suppose you don't want it sent on to her now?"
"No, I don't. It was only to tell her I'd meet her here!"
"Well, I'll bring it to you then." She went into the kitchen and presently returned, carrying John's letter in her hand. "Is this it?" she said. "It's got the Ballyards postmark on it."
He took it from her. "Yes, that's it," he replied, tearing it in pieces. "Could I trouble you to put it in the fire," he said, handing the torn paper to her.
"It's no trouble at all," she answered, taking the pieces from him.
"Good morning, Mrs. Bothwell!" he said.
"Well, good morning to you!"
He opened the door and was about to pass out of the restaurant when she spoke to him again.
"I wouldn't let a thing like that upset me if I was you," she said. "Sure, what's one girl more nor another girl! You'll get your pick and choice before long. A fine fellow like you'll not go begging for nothing!"
"I'm not letting it upset me," he said, "but it'll be the queer girl that'll make a fool of me in a hurry!"
"That's the spirit,'"' said Mrs. Bothwell.
He walked down the stairs and into the street in a state of fury. He had been treated as if he were a corner-boy.
Willie Logan, who was any girl's boy, could not have been treated so contemptuously as he, who had never cared for any other girl, had been treated. She had married a policeman ... a peeler! She might as well have married a soldier or a militia-man. A MacDermott had been rejected in favour of a peeler! She had gone straight from his embraces to the embraces of a policeman ... a common policeman. She had refused to meet him on a Wednesday, he remembered, because, probably, she had engaged to meet the peeler on that evening. He would be off duty then! While she was yielding her lips to John, she was actually engaged to be married to ... to a policeman! By heaven!...
What a good and fortunate thing it was that he had not spoken of her to anyone except to Uncle Matthew! If anyone were to know that a MacDermott had fallen in love with a girl who had preferred to marry a peeler ... a peeler, mind you! ... they would split their sides laughing. What a humiliation! What an insufferable thing to have happened to him! That was your love for you! That was your romance for you! ... Och! Och, och!! This was a lesson for him, indeed. No more love or romance for him. Willie Logan could run after girls until the soles dropped off his boots, but John MacDermott would let the girls do the running after him in future. No girl would ever get the chance again to throw him over for ... for a peeler! If that was their love, they could keep their love!...
He walked about the town until, after a while, he found himself at the Theatre Royal. Still raging against Maggie, he paid for a seat in the pit. He had forgotten that he was in mourning, and he remembered only that he was a jilted lover, a MacDermott cast aside for a policeman. He sat through the first act of the play, without much comprehension of its theme. Then in the middle of the second act, he heard the heroine vowing that she loved the hero, and he got up and walked out of the theatre.
"I could write a better play than that with one hand tied behind my back," he said to himself. "Her and her love!"
He walked rapidly from the theatre, conscious of hunger, for he had omitted to get a meal before going into the theatre, but he was unwilling to forego the pleasure of starving himself as a sign of his humiliation. He made his way towards Smithfield and stopped in front of a bookstall. A couple of loutish lads were fingering a red-bound book as he approached the stall, and he heard them tittering in a sneaky, furtive fashion as he drew near. The owner of the stall emerged from the back of his premises, and when they saw him, they hurriedly put the book down and walked away. John glanced at it and read the title on the cover: The Art of Love by Ovid.
"Love!" he exclaimed aloud. "Ooo-oo-oo!"
The streets were full of young men and women intent on an evening's pleasure, and as he hurried away from Smithfield Market towards the railway station, he received bright glances from girls who were willing to make friends with him. He scowled heavily at them, and when they looked away to other men, he filled his mind with sneers and bitter thoughts. A few hours before, these young girls would have seemed to him to be very beautiful and innocent, but now they appeared to him to be deceitful and wicked. Each evening, he told himself, these girls came out of their houses in search of "boys" whom they lured into love-making, teasing and tormenting them, until at last they tired of them and sent them empty away. That was your love for you! Uncle Matthew had dreamed of romantic love, and John had set out to find it, and behold, what was it! A girl's frolic, a piece of feminine sport, in which the girl had the fun and the boy had the humiliation and pain. Maggie could go from him, her lips still warm with his kisses, to her policeman ... and take kisses from him! There might be other hoaxed lovers ... if she had one, why not have two or three or four ... and his kisses might have meant no more to her than the kisses of half-a-dozen other men. Well, he had learned his lesson! No more love for him....
He crossed the Queen's Bridge, and when he reached the station, he came upon Willie Logan, moodily gazing at the barriers which were not yet open. John, undesirous of society, nodded to him and would have gone away, but Willie suddenly caught hold of his arm.
"I want to speak to you a minute, John!" he said thickly.
The smell of drink drifted from him.
"What about?" John answered sourly.
"Come over here 'til a quiet place," Willie said, still holding John's arm, and drawing him to a seat at the other end of the station. "Sit here 'til the gates is open," he added, as he sat down.
"Is there anything up?" John demanded.
"Aye," Willie replied in a bewildered voice. "John, man, I'm in terrible trouble!"
"Sore disgrace, John. I don't know what my da and ma'll say to me at all when they hear about it. Such a thing!..."
"Well, what is it?"
"Do you know a wee girl called Jennie Roak?" John shook his head. "Her aunt lives in Ballyards ... Mrs. Cleeland!..."
"Oh, yes. Is that her aunt?"
"Aye. Well, me an' her has been going out together for a wee while past, and she says now she's goin' to have a child!"
John burst into laughter.
"What the hell are you laughing at?" Willie demanded angrily.
"I was thinking it doesn't matter whether it's one girl or a dozen you're after, you'll get into bother just the same!"
"Aye, but what am I to do, John? I'll have to tell the oul' fella, and he'll be raging mad when he hears about it. He's terrible against that sort of thing, and dear knows I'm an awful one for slipping into trouble. I can not keep away from girls, John, and that's the God's truth of it. And I've been brought up as respectable as anybody. Jennie's in an awful state about it!"
"I daresay," said John.
"She says I'll have to marry her over the head of it, but sure I don't want to get married at all ... not yet, anyway. I don't know what to do. I'll have to tell the oul' lad and he'll have me scalded with his tongue. I suppose I'll have to marry her. It's a quare thing a fella can't go out with a girl without getting into bother. I wish to my goodness I had as much control over myself as you have!"
"Control!" said John.
"Aye. You'll never get into no bother!"
"Huh!" said John.
The barriers were opened, and Willie and John passed through on to the platform, and presently seated themselves in a carriage.
"This'll be a lesson to me," said Willie, lying back against the cushions of the carriage. "Not to be running after so many girls in future!"
John did not make any answer to him. He let his thoughts wander out of the carriage. He had loved Maggie Carmichael deeply, and she had served him badly; and Willie Logan, who treated girls in a light fashion, was complaining now because one girl had loved him too well. And that was your love for you! That was the high romantical thing of which Uncle Matthew had so often spoken and dreamed...
He came out of his thoughts suddenly, for Willie Logan was shaking him.
There was a glint in Willie Logan's eye!...
"I say, John," he said, "come on into the next carriage! There's two quare nice wee girls just got in!"
"No," said John.
"Ah, come on," Willie coaxed.
"No," John almost shouted.
"Well, stay behind then. I'll have the two to myself," Willie exclaimed, climbing out of the carriage as he spoke.
"That lad deserves all he gets," John thought.
His mother called to him as he passed through the kitchen on his way to the attic where his Uncle Matthew's books were stored.
"Your Uncle William's wanting a talk with you," she said. "Mr. McGonigal's been here about the will!"
"I'll be down in a wee while," John replied as he climbed the stairs. He wished to sit in some quiet place until he had composed his mind which was still disturbed. He had hoped to have the railway compartment to himself after Willie Logan had left it, but two drovers had hurriedly entered it as the train was moving out of the station, and their noisy half-drunken talk had prevented him from thinking with composure. Willie Logan's loud laughter, accompanied by giggles and the sound of scuffling, penetrated from the next compartment....
In the attic, there would be quietness.
He entered the room and stood among the disordered piles of books that lay about the floor. A mania for rearrangement had seized hold of him one day, but he had done no more than take the books from their shelves and leave them in confused heaps. He had promised that he would make the attic tidy again, when his mother complained of the room's disarray. His mind would become quiet, perhaps, if he were to spend a little time now in replacing the books on the shelves in the order in which he wished them to be. He sat down on the floor and contemplated them. Most of these volumes, new and old, were concerned with the love of men for women. It seemed impossible to escape from the knowledge of this passion in any book that one might read. Love made intrusions even into the history books, and bloody wars had been fought and many men had been slain because of a woman's beauty or to gratify her whim. Even in the Bible!...
He remembered that Uncle Matthew had told him that the Song of Solomon was a real love song or series of songs, and not, as the headlines to the chapters insisted, an allegorical description of Christ's love for the Church. There was a Bible lying near to his hand, and he picked it up and turned the pages until he reached the Song of Songs which is called Solomon's, and he hurriedly read through it as if he were searching for sentences.
I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine: he feedeth among the lilies. Thou art beautiful, O my love, as Tirzah, comely as Jerusalem, terrible as an army with banners!
So the woman sang. Then the man, less abstract than the woman, sang in his turn.
How beautiful are thy feet with shoes, O Prince's daughter: the joints of thy thighs are like jewels, the work of the hands of a cunning workman. Thy navel is like a round goblet which wanted not liquor: thy belly is like an heap of wheat set about with lilies. Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins!...
John glanced at the headline to this song. "It's a queer thing to call that 'a further description of the church's graces'," he said to himself, and then his eye searched through the verses of the song until he reached the line,
How fair and how pleasant art thou, O love, for delights!...
"I daresay," he murmured to himself. "I daresay! But there's a terrible lot of misery in it, too!"
He read the whole of the last song.
Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death: jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it....
"That's true," he said. "That's very true! I love her just the same, for all she's treated me so bad! Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it. Oh, I wish to my God I could forget things as easy as Willie Logan forgets them!"
He closed the Bible and put it down on the floor beside him, and sat with his hands clutching hold of his ankles. He would have to go away from Ballyards. He would not be able to rest contentedly near Belfast where Maggie lived ... with her peeler! He must go away from home, and the further away he went, the better it would be. Then he might forget about her. Perhaps, after all, it was not true that "many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it." Poets had a terrible habit of exaggerating things, and perhaps he would forget his love for Maggie in some distant place!...
There was a copy of Romeo and Juliet perched on top of a pile of books. "That was the cause of all my trouble," he said, pushing it so that it fell off the pile on to the floor at his feet. He picked it up and opened it, and as he did so, his eyes rested on Mercutio's speech, If love be rough with you, be rough with love.
Comfort instantly came into his mind.
"I will," he said, rising from the floor.
His Uncle William was in the kitchen when he descended the stairs from the attic.
"Mr. McGonigal was here this morning after you went up to Belfast," he said, as John entered the kitchen. "Everything's settled up. Your Uncle Matthew left you L180 and his books. It's more nor I imagined he had, though I knew well he hardly spent a copper on himself, beyond the books he bought. He was inclined to be an extravagant man like the rest of us before that bother he got into in Belfast over the head of the oul' Queen, but he changed greatly after. The money'll be useful to you, boy, when you start off in life!"
"I'll come into the shop with you, Uncle William," John said, glancing towards the scullery where his mother was. "I want to have a word or two with you!"
"Very good," Uncle William replied, leading the way into the shop.
They sat down together in the little counting-house while John told his Uncle of his desire to go away from home.
"And where in the earthly world do you want to go to?" Uncle William demanded.
"Anywhere. London, mebbe! I'm near in the mind to go to America. Mebbe, I'll just travel the world!"
"A hundred and eighty pounds'll not carry you far," Uncle William exclaimed.
"It'll take me a good piece of the way, and if I can't earn enough to take me the rest of it, sure, what good am I?"
Uncle William shrugged his shoulders. "You must do as you please, I suppose, but I'll miss you sore when you do go. It'll be poor pleasure for me to live on here, with you gone and your Uncle Matthew dead!"
"I'll come back every now and then to see you," John promised. "I'm not going to cut myself off from you altogether. You know that rightly. I just want to see a bit of the world. I ... I want to find out things!"
"What things, John?"
"Oh ... everything! Whatever there is to find out!"
"I sometimes think," said Uncle William, "you can find out all there is to find out at home, if you have enough gumption in you to find out anything at all. Have you told your ma yet?"
John shook his head.
"It'll want a bit of telling," Uncle William prophesied.
"I daresay, but she'll have plenty of time to get used to it. I'm not going this minute. I'm going to try and do some writing at home first, 'til I get my hand in. Then when I think I know something about the job, I'll go and see what I can make out of it."
Uncle William sat in silence for a few moments, tapping noiselessly on the desk with his fingers.
"It's a pity you've no notion of the grocery," he said. "This shop'll be yours one of these days!"
"I haven't any fancy for it," John replied.
"I know you haven't. It's a pity all the same. I suppose, when I'm dead, you'll sell the shop!"
"You're in no notion of dying yet awhile, Uncle William. A hearty man like you'll outlive us all!"
"Mebbe, but that's not the point, John. The MacDermotts have owned this shop a powerful while, as your ma tells you many's a time. When I'm dead, you'll be the last of us ... and you'll want to give up the shop. That's what I think's a pity. I'm with your ma over that. I suppose, though, the whole history of the world is just one record of change and alteration, and it's no use complaining. The shop'll have to go, and the MacDermotts, too!..." He did not speak for a few moments, and then, in a brisker tone, he said, "Mebbe, one of the assistants'll buy it from you. Henry Blackwood has money saved, I know, and by the time you want to sell it, he'll mebbe have a good bit past him. I'll drop a wee hint to him that you'll be wanting to sell, so's to prepare him!"
"Very well, Uncle!" John said.
"If you do sell the shop, make whoever buys it change the name over the door. If the MacDermott family is not to be in control of it, then I'd like well for the name to be painted out altogether and the new name put in its place. I'd hate to think of anyone pretending the MacDermotts was still here, carrying on their old trade, and them mebbe not giving as good value as we gave. The MacDermotts have queer pride, John!"
"I know they have, Uncle William. I have, too!"
"And they wouldn't lie content in their graves if they thought their names was associated with bad value!"
"You're taking it for granted, Uncle, I'll want to sell the shop. Mebbe, I won't. I'll mebbe not be good at anything else but the grocery. I'm talking big now about writing books, but who knows whether I'll ever write one!"
"Oh, you'll write one, John. You'll write plenty. You'll do it because you want to do it. You've got your da's nature. When he wanted a thing, he got it, no matter who had it!"
"There was one thing he wanted, Uncle William, and wanted bad, but couldn't get!"
"What was that, son?" Uncle William demanded.
"He wanted to live, but he wasn't let," John answered.
Uncle William considered for a few moments. "Of course," he said, "there's some things that even a MacDermott can't do!"
John left his Uncle in the shop and went into the kitchen to tell his mother of his decision. He felt certain that she would oppose him, and he braced himself to resist her appeals that he should change his mind.
But she took his announcement very quietly.
"I've made up my mind to go to London, ma!" he said to her.
She did not look up immediately. Then she turned towards him, and said, "Oh, yes, John!"
He paused, nonplussed by her manner, as if he were waiting for her to proceed, but finding that she did not say any more, he continued. "I daresay it'll upset you," he said.
"I'm used to being upset," she replied, "and I expected it. When will you be going?"
"I don't know yet. In a wee while. I'll have to speak to Mr. Cairnduff first about quitting the school, and then I'll stay at home for a bit, writing 'til I'm the master of it. After that I'll go to London ... or mebbe to America!"
She sat quite still in the armchair beneath the window that overlooked the yard. He felt that he ought to say more to her, that she ought to say more to him, but he could not think of anything to say to her, because she had said so little to him.
"I hope you're not upset about it," he said.
"Upset!" she exclaimed, with a sound of bitterness in her tone.
"Yes. I know you never approved of the idea!"
"It doesn't make any difference whether I approve or not, does it?..."
"That's not a fair way to put it, ma!"
"But it amounts to that all the same," she retorted. "No, John, I'm not upset. What would be the good? I had other hopes for you, but they weren't your hopes, and I daresay you're right. I daresay you are. After all, we ... we have to ... to do the best we can for ourselves ... haven't we?"
"And if you think you can do better in London ... or America nor you can in Ballyards ... well, you're right to ... to go, aren't you?"
"That's what I think, ma!" John answered.
She did not say any more, and he sat at the table, tapping on it with a pencil. There was no sound in the kitchen but the ticking of the clock and the noise of the water boiling in the kettle and the little tap, tap ... tap, tap ... tap, tap, tap ... of his pencil on the table. Mrs. MacDermott had been hemming a handkerchief when John entered the kitchen, and as he glanced at her now, he saw that her head was bent over it again. He looked at her for a long while, it seemed to him, but she did not raise her head to return his look. If she would only rebuke him for wishing to go ... but this awful silence!...
He looked about the kitchen, as if he were assuring himself that the old, familiar things were still in their places. He would be glad, of course, to go away from home, because he wished to adventure into bigger things ... but he would be sorry to go, too. There was something very dear and friendly about the house. He had experienced much love and care in it, and had had much happiness here. Nevertheless, he would be glad to go. He needed a change, he wished to have things happening to him. He remembered very vividly something that his Uncle Matthew had said to him in this very room. "Sure, what does it matter whether you're happy and contented or not, so long as things are happening to you!"
That was the right spirit. Uncle Matthew had known all the time what was the right life for a man to lead, even although he had never gone out into the world himself. What if Maggie Carmichael had treated him badly? If love be rough with you, be rough with love! Who was Maggie Carmichael anyway? One woman in a world full of women! She was only Maggie Carmichael ... or Maggie whatever the policeman's name was! If love be rough with you, be rough with love! ... Oh, he would, he would! There were finer women in the world than Maggie Carmichael, and what was to prevent him from getting the finest woman amongst them if he wanted her. Had it not been said of his father that he could have taken a queen from a king's bed, lifted her clean out of a palace in face of the whole court and taken her to his home, a happy and contented woman?... Well, then, what one MacDermott could do, another MacDermott could do....
His mother got up from her chair and, putting down her hemmed handkerchief, said, "It's time I wet the tea!"
He watched her as she went about the kitchen, making preparations for the meal, and he wondered why it was that she did not look at him. Very carefully she averted her eyes from him as she passed from the fireplace to the scullery; and when she had to approach the place where he was sitting, she did so with downcast gaze. Suddenly he knew why she would not look at him. He knew that if she were to do so, she would cry, and as the knowledge came to him, a great tenderness for her arose in his heart, and he stood up and putting out his hands drew her to him and kissed her. And then she cried. Her body shook with sobs as she clung to him, her face thrust tightly against his breast. But she did not speak. Uncle William, coming from the shop, looked into the kitchen for a moment, but, observing his sister's grief, went hurriedly back to the shop.
"Don't, ma!" John pleaded, holding her as if she were a distressed child.
"I can't help it, John," she cried. "I'll be all right in a wee while, but I can't help it yet!"
After a time, she gained control of herself, and gradually her sobs subsided, and then they ceased.
"I didn't mean to cry," she said.
"But I couldn't control myself any longer. I'll not give way again, John!"
She went to the scullery and returned with cups and saucers which she put on the table.
"Would you like some soda-bread or wheaten farls?" she asked.
"I'll have them both," he answered. He paused for a moment, and then, before she had time to go to the pantry, he went on. "You know, ma, I ... I have to go. I mean I ... I have to go!"
"Have to go, John?"
"Yes. I ... I have to go. I was friends with a girl!..."
She came quickly to his side, and put her arms round his neck. The misery had suddenly gone from her face, and there was a look of anxiety, mingled with gratification, in her eyes.
"That's it, is it?" she said. "Oh, I thought you were tired of your home. Poor son, poor son, did she not treat you well?"
"She was married this morning on a peeler, ma!"
"And you in love with her?" she exclaimed indignantly.
"The woman's a fool," said Mrs. MacDermott. "You're well rid of her!..."
He saw now that there would be no further objection made by his mother against his going from home. As clearly as if she had said so, he understood that she now regarded his departure from home as a pilgrimage from which in due time he would return, purged of his grief. And she was content.
"A woman that would marry a peeler when she might marry a MacDermott, is not fit to marry a MacDermott," she said, almost to herself.
And so, when three months later, he decided to go to London, she did not try to hold him back. He had worked hard on a bitter novel that would, he imagined, fill men with amazement and women with shame, and when he had completed it, he bound the long, loose sheets of foolscap together and announced that he was now ready to go to London. Mr. Cairnduff told him of lodgings in Brixton, where an old friend of his, an Ulsterman and a journalist, was living, and Mr. McCaughan gave him a very vivid account of the perils of London life. "Bad women!" he said, ominously, "are a terrible temptation to a young fellow all by himself in a big town!" and then, brightening a little, he remarked that he need not tell so sensible a lad as John how to take care of himself. John had only to remember that he was a MacDermott!...
But Mrs. MacDermott did not offer any advice to him. She packed his trunk and his bag on the day he was to leave Ballyards, taking care to put a Bible at the bottom of the trunk, and told him that they were ready for him. He was to travel by the night boat from Belfast to Liverpool, and it was not necessary for him to leave Ballyards until the evening, nor did he wish to spend more time in Belfast than was absolutely necessary. His Uncle and his mother were to accompany him to the boat: Mr. McCaughan and Mr. Cairnduff would say good-bye to him at Ballyards station. Willie Logan, now safely married to his Jennie and a little dashed in consequence of the limitations imposed upon him by marriage, had volunteered to come to the station "and see the last of" him. There was to be a gathering of friends on the platform ... but he wished in his heart they would allow him to go away in peace and quietness.
It was strange, he thought, that his mother did not talk to him about his journey to London. He had imagined that she would have a great deal to say about it, but it was not until the day of his departure that she spoke of it to him.
She came to him, after she had packed his trunk and bag, and said, "Come into the return room a wee minute!" and, obediently, he followed her.
"I want to show you something," she said in explanation. "Shut the door behind you!"
"Is there anything wrong, ma?" he asked, puzzled by the mystery in her manner.
"No," she answered, "only I don't want the whole world to see us!"
She went to the cupboard and took out a bottle of whiskey.
"Sit down," she said.
"Is that whiskey?" he asked as he seated himself.
She nodded her head and returned to the table.
"You're not thinking of giving me a drop, are you?" he exclaimed laughingly.
There was a look in her eyes that checked laughter.
"If I had my way," she said with great bitterness, "I'd take the men that make this stuff and I'd drown them in it. I'd pour it down their throats 'til they choked!..." She poured a little of the whiskey into a saucer. "Give me a light," she demanded.
He went to the mantel-shelf and brought the box of matches from it.
"Strike one," she said, and added when he had done so, "Set fire to the whiskey!"
He succeeded in making the spirit burn, and for a little while she and he stood by the table while the cold blue flames curled out of the saucer, wavering and spurting, until the spirit was consumed and the flame flickered and expired.
"That's what a drunkard's inside is like," said Mrs. MacDermott, picking up the saucer and carrying it downstairs to the scullery to be washed. He heard the water splashing in the sink, and when he had put the bottle of whiskey back in the cupboard, he went downstairs and waited until she had finished. She returned to the kitchen, carrying the washed saucer, and when she had placed it on the dresser, she took up a Bible and brought it to him.
"I want you to swear to me," she said, "that you'll never taste a drop of drink as long as you live!"
"That's easy enough," he answered. "I don't like it!"
She looked up at him in alarm. "Have you tasted it already, then?" she asked.
"Yes. How would I know I didn't like it if I hadn't tasted it? The smell of it is enough to knock you down!"
She put the Bible back on the dresser. "It doesn't matter," she said when he held out his hand for it. "Mebbe you have enough strength of your own to resist it. I ... I don't always understand you, John, and I'm fearful sometimes to see you so sure of yourself." She came to him suddenly and swiftly, and clasped him close to her. "I love you with the whole of my heart, son," she said, "and I'm desperate anxious about you!"
"You needn't be anxious about me, ma!" he answered. "I'm all right!"
The minister said, "God bless you, boy!" and patted him on the shoulder, and the schoolmaster wished him well and begged that now and then John would write to him. Willie Logan, hot and in a hurry, entered the station, eager to say good-bye to him, but the stern and disapproving eye of the minister caused him to keep in the background until John, understanding what was in his mind, went up to him.
"I'm sure I wish you all you can wish yourself," Willie said very heartily. "I wish to my God I was going with you, but sure, I'm one of the unlucky ones. Aggie sent her love to you, but I couldn't persuade her to come and give it to you herself!"
"Thank you, Willie. You might tell her I'm obliged to her."
"You never had no notion of her, John?"
"I had not, Willie. How's Jennie keeping?"
"Och, she's well enough," he answered sulkily, "Look at the minister there, glaring at me as I was dirt. Sure, didn't I marry the girl, and got intil a hell of a row over it with the oul' fella! And what's he got to glare at? There's no need to be giving you good advice about weemen, John, for you're well able to take care of yourself as far as I can see, but all the same, mind what you're doing when you get into their company or you'll mebbe get landed the same as me!..."
"Don't you like being married, then?"
"Ah, quit codding," said Willie.
* * * * *
THE SECOND BOOK OF THE FOOLISH LOVERS
Whoever loved that loved not at first sight. MARLOWE.
"Love is a perfect fever of the mind. I question if any man has been more tormented with it than myself." JAMES BOSWELL, in a letter to the Rev. W. J. Temple.
THE FIRST CHAPTER
Mr. Cairnduff's friend, George Hinde, met John at Euston Station. He was a stoutly-built, red-haired man, with an Ulster accent that had not been impaired in any degree by twenty years of association with Cocknies. "How're you!" he said, going up to John and seizing hold of his hand.
"Rightly, thank you! How did you know me?" John replied, laughing and astonished.
"That's a question and a half to ask!" Hinde exclaimed. "Wouldn't an Ulsterman know another Ulsterman the minute he clapped his eyes on him? Boys O, but it's grand to listen to a Belfast voice again. Here you," he said, turning quickly to a porter, "come here, I want you. Get this gentleman's luggage, and bring it to that hansom there. Do you hear me?"
"Yessir," the porter replied.
"What have you got with you?" he went on, turning to John.
"A trunk and a bag," John answered. "They have my name on them. John MacDermott!"
"Mac what, sir?" the porter asked.
"MacDermott. John MacDermott. Passenger from Ballyards to London, via Belfast and Liverpool!"
"It's no good telling him about Ballyards," Hinde interrupted. "The people of this place are ignorant: they've never heard of Ballyards. Go on, now," he said to the porter, "and get the stuff and bring it here!"
The porter hurried off to the luggage-van. "Ill only just be able to put you in the hansom," said Hinde to John, "and start you off home, I've got to go north, tonight to write a special report of a meeting!..."
"What sort of a meeting?" John enquired.
"Political. An address to Mugs by a Humbug. That's what it ought to be called. I was looking forward to having a good crack with you the night, but sure a newspaper man need never hope to have ten minutes to himself. I've given Miss Squibb orders to have a good warm supper ready for you. That's a thing the English people never think of having on a Sunday night. They're afraid God 'ud send them to hell if they didn't have cold beef for their Sunday supper. But there'll be a hot supper for you, anyway. A man that's been travelling all night and all day wants something better nor cold beef in his inside on a cold night!"
"It's very kind of you!..."
"Ah, what's kind about? Aren't you an Ulsterman? You've a great accent! Man, dear, but you've a great accent! If ever you lose it I'll never own you for a friend, and I'll get you the sack from any place you're working in. I'll blacken your character!..."
"You're a terrible cod," said John, laughing at him.
"Damn the cod there's about it! You listen to these Cockney fellows talking, and then you'll understand me. It's worse nor the Dublin adenoids voice. There's no people in the earthly world talks as fine as the Ulster people. Here's the man with your luggage!" The porter wheeled a truck, bearing John's trunk and bag, up to them as he spoke. "Is that all you have?"
"Aye," said John.
"And enough, too! What anybody wants with more, I never can make out, unless they're demented with the mania of owning things! That's a bit out of Walt Whitman. Ever read any of him?"
"No," said John.
"It's about time you begun then. Put this stuff in the hansom, will you?" he went on to the porter, and while the porter did so, he continued his conversation with John. "Miss Squibb ... that's the name of the landlady ... comic name, isn't it? ... like a name out of Dickens ... and she's a comic-looking woman, too ... hasn't got a spare sitting-room to let you have, but you can share mine 'til she has. My bedroom's on the same floor as the sitting-room, but yours is on the floor above. We're a rum crew in that house. There's a music-hall man and his wife on the ground-floor ... a great character altogether ... Cream is their name ... and a Mr. and Mrs. Tarpey ... but you'll see them all for yourself. I'll be back on Tuesday night. Give this porter sixpence, and the cabman's fare'll be three and sixpence, but you'd better give him four bob. If he tries to charge you more nor that, because you're a stranger, take his number. Good-bye, now, and don't forget I'll be back on Tuesday night!"
He helped John into the hansom, and after giving instructions to the cabman, stood back on the pavement, smiling and waving his hand, while the cab, with a flourish of whip from the driver and a jingle of harness, drove out of the station.
"I like that man," said John to himself, as he lay back against the cushions and gave himself up to the joy of riding in a hansom cab.
The house to which John was carried was in the Brixton Road, near to the White House public-house. Fifty years ago it had been a rich merchant's home and was almost a country house, but now, like many similar houses, it had fallen to a dingy estate: it was, without embroidery of description, a lodging-house. Miss Squibb, who opened the door to him, had a look of settled depression on her face that was not, as he at first imagined, due to disapproval of him, but, as he speedily discovered, to a deeply-rooted conviction that the rest of humanity was engaged in a conspiracy to defraud her. She eyed the cabman with so much suspicion that he became uneasy in his mind and deposited the trunk and the bag in the hall in silence, nor did he make any comment on the amount of his fare.
Miss Squibb helped John to carry the luggage to his room. Her niece, Lizzie, who usually performed such work, was spending the week-end with another aunt in North London, so Miss Squibb said, and she was due to return before midnight, but Miss Squibb would expect her when she saw her. It would not surprise her to find that Lizzie did not return to her home until Monday evening. Nothing would surprise Miss Squibb. Miss Squibb had long since ceased to be surprised at anything. No one had had more cause to feel surprised than Miss Squibb had had in the course of her life, but now she never felt surprised at anything. She prophesied that a time would come when John would cease to feel surprise at things....
She stood in the centre of his bedroom in a bent attitude, with her hands folded across her flat chest, and regarded him with large, protruding eyes. "You're Irish, aren't you?" she said, accusingly.
"Yes, Miss Squibb," he said, using her name with difficulty, because it created in him a desire to laugh.
"Like Mr. 'Inde?"
"Inde!" he repeated blankly, and then comprehension came to him. "Oh, Mr. Hinde! Yes! Oh, yes, yes!"
"I thought so," she continued. "You have the syme sort of talk. Funny talk, I calls it. Wot time du want your breakfis?"
"Eight o'clock," he said.
"I s'pose you'll do syme as Mr. 'Inde ... leave it to me to get the things for you, an' charge it up?"
"Oh, yes," John replied. "I'll do just what Mr. Hinde does!"
He looked around the dingy room, and as he did so, he felt depression coming over him; but Miss Squibb misjudged his appraising glance.
"It's a nice room," she said, as if she were confirming his judgment on it.
"Yes," he said dubiously, glancing at the bed and the table and the ricketty washstand. There were pictures and framed mottoes on the walls. Over his bed was a large motto-card, framed in stained deal, bearing the word: ETERNITY; and on the opposite wall, placed so that he should see it immediately he awoke, was a coloured picture of Daniel in the Lions' Den, in which the lions seemed to be more dejected than Daniel.
"A gentleman wot used to be a lodger 'ere done that," said Miss Squibb when she saw that he was looking at the picture. "'E couldn't py 'is rent an' 'e offered to pynt the bath-room, but we 'aven't got a bath-room so 'e pynted that instead. It used to be a plyne picture 'til 'e pynted it. 'E sort of livened it up a bit. Very nice gentleman 'e was, only 'e did get so 'orribly drunk. Of course, 'e was artistic!"
The drawing was out of perspective, and John remarked upon the fact, but Miss Squibb, fixing him with her protruding eyes, said that she could not see that there was anything wrong with the picture. It was true, as she admitted, that if you were to look closely at the lion on the extreme right of the picture, you would find he had two tails, or rather, one tail and the remnant of another which the artist had not completely obliterated. But that was a trifle.
"Pictures ain't meant to be looked at close," said Miss Squibb, "an' any'ow you can't expect to 'ave everythink in this world. Some people's never satisfied without they're finding fault in things!"
John, feeling that her final sentence was a direct rebuke to himself, hurriedly looked away from the picture.
"There's a good view from the window," he said to console her for his depreciation of the picture.
"That's wot I often says myself," she replied. "People says it's 'igh up 'ere an' a long way to climb, but wot I says is, it's 'ealthy when you get 'ere, and you 'ave a view. I'll leave you now," she concluded. "When you've 'ad a wash, your supper'll be waitin' for you. in Mr. 'Inde's sitting-room. I expect you'll be glad to 'ave it!"
"I shall," he replied. "I'm hungry!"
"Yes, I expect so," she said, closing the door.
He sat down on the bed and again looked about the room, and the dreariness of it filled him with nostalgia. He had not yet unpacked his trunk or his bag, and he felt that he must immediately carry them down the stairs again, that he must call for a cabman and have his luggage and himself carried back to Euston Station so that he might return to his home. The clean air of Ballyards and the bright sunlit bedroom over the shop seemed incomparably lovely when he looked about the dingy Brixton bedroom. If this was the beginning of adventure!... He gazed at the picture of Daniel in the Lions' Den, and wished that a lion would eat Daniel or that Daniel would eat a lion!...
Then he went to the washstand and washed his face and hands, and when he had done so, he went downstairs and ate his supper.
In the morning, there was a thump on his bedroom door, and before he had had time to consider what he should do, the door opened and a girl entered, carrying a tray. "Eight o'clock," she said, "an' 'ere's your breakfast! Aunt said you'd better 'ave it in bed 'smornin', after your journey!"
She set the tray down on the table so carelessly that she spilled some of the contents of the coffee-pot.
"Aunt forgot to ask would you have tea or coffee, so she sent up coffee. Mr. 'Inde always 'as coffee, so she thought you would, too! An' there's a 'addick. Mr. 'Inde likes 'addick. It ain't a bad fish!"
John looked at her as she arranged the table. Her abrupt entry into the room, while he was in bed, startled him. No woman, except his mother, had ever been in his bedroom before, and it horrified him to think that this strange young woman could see him sitting in his nightshirt in bed. He had never in his life seen so untidy a woman as this. Her hair had been hastily pinned together in a shapeless lump on the top of her head, and loose ends straggled from it. Her dress was on her ... that was certain ... but how it was on her was more than he could understand. She seemed to bristle with safety-pins!...
Her total lack of shame, in the presence of a man, undressed and in bed, caused him to wonder whether she was one of the Bad Women against whom Mr. McCaughan had so solemnly warned him. If she, were, the warning was hardly necessary!...
"I think you got everythink?" she said briskly, glancing over the table to see that nothing was missing.
He saw now that, she bore some facial resemblance to Miss Squibb. She was not, as that lady was, ashen-hued, but her eyes, though less prominently, bulged. This must be Lizzie!...
"Who are you?" he asked, as she turned to leave the room. "Eih?"
"What's your name? I've not seen you before!"
"Naow," she exclaimed, "I've been awy! I'm Lizzie. 'Er niece!"
She nodded her head towards the door, and he interpreted this to mean Miss Squibb.
"Oh, yes," he said. "She told me about you. Were you very late last night?"
She laughed. "Naow," she replied, "I was very early this mornin'!"
She stood with her hand on the knob of the door. "If you want anythink else," she said, "just 'oller down, the stairs for it. An' you needn't 'urry to get up. I know wot travellin's like. I've travelled a bit myself in my time. That 'addick ain't as niffy as it smells!..."
She closed the door behind her and he could hear her quick steps all the way down the stairs to the ground floor.
"That's a queer sort of woman," he said to himself.
As he ate his breakfast, he wondered at Lizzie's lack of embarrassment as she stood in his bedroom and saw him lying in bed. She had behaved as coolly as if she had been in a dining-room and he had been completely clothed. What would his mother say if she knew that a girl had entered his bedroom as unconcernedly as if she were entering a tramcar? Never in all his life had such a thing happened to him before. He had been very conscious of his bare neck, for the collar of his night-shirt had come unfastened. He had tried to fasten it again, but in his desire to do so without drawing Lizzie's attention to his state, he had merely fumbled with it, and had, finally, to abandon the attempt. What astonished him was that Lizzie appeared to be totally unaware of anything unusual in the fact that she was in the bedroom of a strange man. She did not look like a Bad Woman ... and surely Mr. Hinde would not live in a house where Bad Women lived!... Perhaps Englishwomen were not so particular about things as Irishwomen!... Anyhow the haddock was good and the coffee tasted nice enough, although he would much rather have had tea.
He finished his meal, and then dressed himself and went downstairs to the sitting-room which he was to share with Hinde. It was less dreary than the bedroom from which he had just emerged, but what brightness it had was not due to any furnishing provided by Miss Squibb, but to a great case full of books which occupied one side of the room. "He's as great a man for books as my Uncle Matthew," John thought, examining a volume here and a volume there. He opened a book of poems by Walt Whitman. "That's the man he was telling me about last night," he said to himself, as he turned the pages. He read a passage aloud:
Come, Muse, migrate—from Greece and Ionia, Cross out, please, those immensely overpaid accounts, That matter of Troy and Achilles' wrath, and Aeneas', Odysseus' wanderings, Placard "Removed" and "To Let" on the rocks of your snowy Parnassus, Repeat at Jerusalem, place the notice high on Jaffa's gate and on Mount Moriah, The same on the walls of your German, French and Spanish castles, and Italian collections, For know a better, fresher, busier sphere, a wide, untried domain awaits, demands you.
"That's strange poetry," he murmured, turning over more of the pages. "Queer stuff! I never read poetry like that before!" He began to read "The Song of the Broad Axe," at first to himself, and then aloud:
What do you think endures? Do you think a great city endures? Or a teeming manufacturing State? or a prepared Constitution? or the best built steamships? Or hotels of granite and iron? or any chefs d'oeuvre of engineering, forts, armaments? Away! these are not to be cherished for themselves, They fill their hour, the dancers dance, the musicians play for them, The show passes, all does well, of course, All does very well till one flash of defiance. A great city is that which has the greatest men and women, If it be a few ragged huts, it is still the greatest city in the world. How beggarly appear arguments before a defiant deed! How the floridness of the materials of cities shrivels before a man's or woman's look!
He re-read aloud the last four lines, and then closed the book and replaced it on the shelf. "That man must have been terribly angry," he said to himself.
Lizzie came into the room. "I 'eard you," she said, "syin' poetry to yourself. You're as bad as Mr. 'Inde, you are. 'E's an' awful one for syin' poetry. Why down't you go out for a walk? You 'aven't seen nothink of London yet, an' 'ere you are wystin' the mornin' syin' poetry. If I was you, now, I'd go and see the Tahr of London where they used to be'ead people. An' the Monument, too! You can go up that for thruppence. An' the view you get! Miles an' miles an' miles! Well, you can see the Crystal Palace anywy! I do like a view! Or if you down't like the Tahr of London, you could go to the Zoo. Ow, the monkeys! Ow, dear! They're so yooman, I felt quite uncomfortable. Any'ow, I should go out if I was you, an' 'ave a look at London. Wot's the good of comin' to London if you don't 'ave a look at it!"
"I think I will," said John.
"I should," Lizzie added emphatically. "I don't suppose we'll see you until dinner time. Seven o'clock, we 'ave it!"
"I always had my dinner in the middle of the day at home," John replied.
"Ow, yes, in Ireland," said Lizzie tolerantly. "But this is London. London's different from Ireland, you know. You'll find things very diff'rent 'ere from wot they are in Ireland. I've 'eard a lot about Ireland. Mr. 'Inde ... 'e does go on about it. Anybody would think to 'ear 'im there wasn't any other plyce in the world!..." She changed the subject abruptly, speaking in a more hurried tone. "I ought reely to be dustin' this room ... only of course you're in it!"
John apologised to her. "I'm interfering with your work," he murmured in confusion.
"Ow, no you ain't. It don't matter if it's dusted or not ... reely. Only Aunt goes on about it. Mr. 'Inde wouldn't notice if it was never dusted. I think he likes dust reely. I suppose you're goin' to do some work now you're 'ere, or are you a writer, too, like Mr. 'Inde?"
"I want to be a writer," John shyly answered.
"Well, there's no 'arm in it," Lizzie said, "But it ain't reg'lar. I believe in reg'lar work myself. Of course, there's no 'arm in bein' a writer, but you'd be much better with a tryde or a nice business, I should think. Reely!"
"Oh, yes," John murmured. "Well, I think I'll go out now!"
"Are you goin' to the Tahr, then?" "No," he answered. "No, I hadn't thought of that. I want to see Fleet Street!..."
"Fleet Street!" Lizzie exclaimed. "Wotever is there to see there."
"Oh, I don't know. I want to see it. That's all!"
"You 'ave got funny tyste. I should, 'ave thought you'd go to see the Tahr reely!..." She broke off as she observed him moving to the door. "Mind, be back at seven sharp. I 'ate the dinner kep' 'angin' about. I don't get no time to myself if people aren't punctual. Mr. 'Inde's awful, 'e is. 'E don't care about no one else, 'e don't. Comes in any time, 'e does, an' expects a 'ot dinner just the syme. Never thinks nobody else never wants to go nowhere!..."
"I'll be back in time," said John, hurrying from the room.
"Well, mind you are," she called after him.
In the street, he remembered that he had forgotten to ask Lizzie to tell him how to find Fleet Street, but her capacity for conversation prevented him from returning to the house to ask her. The number of trams and 'buses of different colours bewildered him, as he stood opposite to the White Horse, and watched them go by: and the accents of the conductors, when they called out their destinations, were unintelligible to him. He heard a man shouting "Beng, Beng, Beng, Beng, Beng, BENGK!" in a voice that sounded like a quick-firing gun, but the noise had no meaning for him. He saw names of places that were familiar to him through his reading or his talk with Uncle Matthew, painted on the side of the trams and buses, but he could not see the name of Fleet Street among them. He turned to a policeman and asked for advice, and the policeman put him in the care of a 'bus-conductor.