BY JAMES STEPHENS
INTRODUCTION BY PADRAIC COLUM
BONI AND LIVERIGHT, INC. PUBLISHERS NEW YORK
Printed in the United States of America
1912, BY SMALL, MAYNARD AND COMPANY (INCORPORATED)
BETHEL SOLOMONS, M.B.
If any of James Stephens' books might be thought to have need of an Introduction it would be the delightful story that is called "Mary, Mary" on one side of the Atlantic Ocean and "The Charwoman's Daughter" on the other. It was written in 1910, when the author was known as the poet of "Insurrections" and the writer of a few of the mordant studies that belong to a later book, "Here Are Ladies."
In 1911 four people came together to establish "The Irish Review." They were David Houston, Thomas MacDonagh, James Stephens and the present writer. James Stephens mentioned that he could hand over some stuff for publication. The "stuff" was the book in hand. It came out as a serial in the second number with the title "Mary, A Story," ran for a twelvemonth and did much to make the fortune (if a review that perished after a career of four years ever had its fortune made) of "The Irish Review."
From the publication of its first chapters the appeal of "Mary" was felt in two or three countries. Mary Makebelieve was not just a fictional heroine—she was Cinderella and Snow-white and all the maidens of tradition for whom the name of heroine is big and burthensome. With the first words of the story James Stephens put us into the attitude of listeners to the household tale of folk-lore. "Mary, Mary" is the simplest of stories: a girl sees this and that, meets a Great Creature who makes advances to her, is humiliated, finds a young champion and comes into her fortune—that is all there is to it as a story. But is it not enough to go with Mary to Stephens' Green and watch the young ducks "pick up nothing with the greatest eagerness and swallow it with the greatest delight," and after that to notice that the ring priced One Hundred Pounds has been taken from the Jewellers' window, and then stand outside the theatre with her and her mother and make up with them the story of the plays from the pictures on the posters?—plays of mystery and imagination they must have surely been.
Then, of course, there is always Mary's mother; and Mrs. Makebelieve, with her beaked nose, and her eyes like pools of ink, and her eagle-flights of speech would give a backbone to any story. Mrs. Makebelieve has and holds all the privileges of the poor and the lonely. Moreover, she is the eternal Charwoman. "She could not remain for any length of time in peoples' employment without being troubled by the fact that these folk had houses of their own and were actually employing her in a menial capacity." Mrs. Makebelieve is, I think, a typical figure. She is the incarnation of the pride and liveliness and imaginative exuberance that permit the poor to live.
How poor are Mary and Mrs. Makebelieve? We know their lack by the measure of their desire. Mrs. Makebelieve, always generous, would have paid her servants Ten Shillings per Week each, and their Board. And we know that she had often observed desolate people dragging themselves through the streets, standing to glare through the windows of bakeries and confectioners' shops, with little children in some of their arms, and that thinking of such things every morsel she ate would have choked her were it not for her own hunger. By our being brought to desire what Mary and her mother desired we come to know the things they lacked.
Yes, poverty was the state in which Mary and Mrs. Makebelieve existed, but freedom was the other side of that poverty. They had not to set the bounds of realization upon their wishes. They were not shut off, as too many of us are, from the adventure and the enchantment that are in things. A broken mirror upon the wall of a bare room! It is, after all, that wonder of wonders, a thing. But one cannot convey to those who have not known the wonder, how wonderful a mere thing is! A child who has watched and watched the face of a grandfather's clock, stopped before he was born, feels this wonder. To grown folk and to those who have many possessions the things they own are lumber, some more convenient, some more decorative than others. But to those who have few possessions things are familiars and have an intimate history. Hence it is only the poor or only unspoiled children that have the full freedom of things—who can enter into their adventure and their enchantment. Mary and her mother have this franchise. And for this reason also "Mary, Mary" has an inner resemblance to a folk-tale. For the folk-tale, shaped as it has been by the poor and by unspoiled people, reveals always the adventure and the enchantment of things. An old lamp may be Aladdin's. A comb might kill a false queen. A key may open the door of a secret chamber. A dish may be the supreme possession of a King. The sense of the uniqueness of things—the sense that the teller of the folk-tale has always, and that such a poet of the poor as Burns has often, is in "Mary, Mary." And there is in it too the zest that the hungry—not the starved but the hungry—have for life. James Stephens says of the young man who became Mary's champion, "His ally and stay was hunger, and there is no better ally for any man: that satisfied and the game is up; for hunger is life, ambition, good will and understanding, while fulness is all those negatives which culminate in greediness, stupidity, and decay."
The scene of the story is that grey-colored, friendly capital—Dublin. It is not the tortuous, inimical, Aristotlian-minded Dublin of James Joyce's "Portrait of the Artist"—it is the Dublin of the simple-hearted Dubliner: Dublin with its great grey clouds and its poising sea-birds, with its hills and its bay, with its streets that everyone would avoid and with its other streets that everyone promenades; with its greens and its park and its river-walks—Dublin, always friendly. It is true that there are in it those who, as the Policeman told Mary, are born by stealth, eat by subterfuge, drink by dodges, get married by antics, and slide into death by strange, subterranean passages. Well, even these would be kindly and humorous the reader of "Mary, Mary" knows. James Stephens has made Dublin a place where the heart likes to dwell.
And would to God that I to-day Saw sunlight on the Hill of Howth, And sunlight on the Golden Spears, And sunlight out on Dublin Bay.
So one who has known Dublin might well exclaim on reading "Mary, Mary" east or west of Eirinn.
James Stephens brought a fresh and distinctive element into the new Irish literature—an imaginative exuberance that in its rush of expression became extravagant, witty, picturesque and lovely. His work began to appear about 1906. Like the rest of the young Irish writers he made his appearance in the weekly journal "Sinn Fein," contributing to it his first poems and his mordant or extravagant essays and stories. At once he made a public for himself. His first poems were published in a volume called "Insurrections" and his public became a wide one. "Mary, Mary" brought out in 1912 was his first prose book. His next, the unclassifiable "Crock of Gold," was given the De Polignac Prize in 1914. Since then he has published two other prose books—"Here Are Ladies" and "The Demi-Gods," with three books of verse, "The Hill of Vision," "Songs from the Clay," and "The Rocky Road to Dublin."
"Insurrections," written just before "Mary, Mary," has vivid revelations of personality. "I saw God—do you doubt it?" says Tomas an Buile in the "pub."—
I saw God. Do you doubt it? Do you dare to doubt it? I saw the Almighty Man. His hand Was resting on a mountain, and He looked upon the World and all about it: I saw Him plainer than you see me now, You mustn't doubt it.
He was not satisfied; His look was all dissatisfied. His beard swung on a wind far out of sight Behind the world's curve, and there was light Most fearful from His forehead, and He sighed, "That star went always wrong, and from the start I was dissatisfied."
He lifted up His hand— I say He heaved a dreadful hand Over the spinning Earth, then I said "Stay, You must not strike it, God; I'm in the way; And I will never move from where I stand." He said, "Dear child, I feared that you were dead," And stayed His hand.
His God is never a lonely God—he has need of humanity, and the quick champion of humanity springs straight into the love of God. Such is the intuition that is in all James Stephens' books.
He is the only author I have ever known whose talk is like his books. The prodigality of humour, intuition and searching thought that he puts into his pages he also puts into what he says. And he is the only man I ever met who can sing his stories as well as tell them. Like the rest of the Irish writers of to-day, what he writes has a sense of spiritual equality as amongst all men and women—a sense of a democracy that is inherent in the world.
New York, September, 1917.
Mary Makebelieve lived with her mother in a small room at the very top of a big, dingy house in a Dublin back street. As long as she could remember she had lived in that top back room. She knew every crack in the ceiling, and they were numerous and of strange shapes. Every spot of mildew on the ancient wall-paper was familiar. She had, indeed, watched the growth of most from a grayish shade to a dark stain, from a spot to a great blob, and the holes in the skirting of the walls, out of which at nighttime the cockroaches came rattling, she knew also. There was but one window in the room, and when she wished to look out of it she had to push the window up, because the grime of many years had so encrusted the glass that it was of no more than the demi-semi-transparency of thin horn. When she did look there was nothing to see but a bulky array of chimney-pots crowning a next-door house, and these continually hurled jays of soot against her window; therefore, she did not care to look out often, for each time that she did so she was forced to wash herself, and as water had to be carried from the very bottom of the five-story house up hundreds and hundreds of stairs to her room, she disliked having to use too much water.
Her mother seldom washed at all. She held that washing was very unhealthy and took the natural gloss off the face, and that, moreover, soap either tightened the skin or made it wrinkle. Her own face was very tight in some places and very loose in others, and Mary Makebelieve often thought that the tight places were spots which her mother used to wash when she was young, and the loose parts were those which had never been washed at all. She thought that she would prefer to be either loose all over her face or tight all over it, and, therefore, when she washed she did it thoroughly, and when she abstained she allowed of no compromise.
Her mother's face was the color of old, old ivory. Her nose was like a great strong beak, and on it the skin was stretched very tightly, so that her nose shone dully when the candle was lit. Her eyes were big and as black as pools of ink and as bright as the eyes of a bird. Her hair also was black, it was as smooth as the finest silk, and when unloosened it hung straightly down, shining about her ivory face. Her lips were thin and scarcely colored at all, and her hands were sharp, quick hands, seeming all knuckle when she closed them and all fingers when they were opened again.
Mary Makebelieve loved her mother very dearly, and her mother returned her affection with an overwhelming passion that sometimes surged into physically painful caresses. When her mother hugged her for any length of time she soon wept, rocking herself and her daughter to and fro, and her clutch became then so frantic that poor Mary Makebelieve found it difficult to draw her breath; but she would not for the world have disturbed the career of her mother's love. Indeed, she found some pleasure in the fierceness of those caresses, and welcomed the pain far more than she reprobated it.
Her mother went out early every morning to work, and seldom returned home until late at night. She was a charwoman, and her work was to scrub out rooms and wash down staircases. She also did cooking when she was asked, and needlework when she got any to do. She had made exquisite dresses which were worn by beautiful young girls at balls and picnics, and fine, white shirts that great gentlemen wore when they were dining, and fanciful waistcoats for gay young men, and silk stockings for dancing in—but that was a long time ago, because these beautiful things used to make her very angry when they were taken from her, so that she cursed the people who came to take them away and sometimes tore up the dresses and danced on them and screamed.
She used often to cry because she was not rich. Sometimes, when she came home from work, she liked to pretend that she was rich; she would play at imagining that some one had died and left her a great fortune, or that her brother Patrick had come back from America with vast wealth, and then she would tell Mary Makebelieve of the things she intended to buy and do the very next day. Mary Makebelieve liked that.... They were to move the first thing in the morning to a big house with a garden behind it full of fruit trees and flowers and birds. There would be a wide lawn in front of the house to play lawn tennis in and to walk with delicately fine young men with fair faces and white hands, who would speak in the French language and bow often with their hats almost touching the ground. There were to be twelve servants—six of them men servants and six of them women servants—who would instantly do as they were bidden and would receive ten shillings each per week and their board; they would also have two nights free in the week, and would be very well fed. There were many wonderful dresses to be bought, dresses for walking in the streets and dresses for driving in a carriage, and others again for riding on horseback and for traveling in. There was a dress of crimson silk with a deep lace collar, and a heavy, wine-colored satin dress with a gold chain falling down in front of it, and there was a pretty white dress of the finest linen, having one red rose pinned at the waist. There were black silken stockings with quaint designs worked on them in red silk, and scarves of silver gauze, and others embroidered with flowers and little shapes of men and women.
When her mother was planning all these things she was very happy, but afterwards she used to cry bitterly and rock her daughter to and fro on her breast until she hurt her.
Every morning about six o'clock Mary Makebelieve left her bed and lit the fire. It was an ugly fire to light, because the chimney had never been swept, and there was no draught. Also they never had any sticks in the house, and scraps of paper twisted tightly into balls with the last night's cinders placed on them and a handful of small coals strewn on the top were used instead. Sometimes the fire blazed up quickly, and that made her happy, but at other times it went out three and four, and often half a dozen times; then the little bottle of paraffin oil had to be squandered—a few rags well steeped in the oil with a newspaper stretched over the grate seldom failed to coax enough fire to boil the saucepan of water; generally this method smoked the water, and then the tea tasted so horrid that one only drank it for the sake of economy.
Mrs. Makebelieve liked to lie in bed until the last possible moment. As there was no table in the room, Mary used to bring the two cups of tea, the tin of condensed milk, and the quarter of a loaf over to the bed, and there she and her mother took their breakfast.
From the time she opened her eyes in the morning her mother never ceased to talk. It was then she went over all the things that had happened on the previous day and enumerated the places she would have to go to on the present day, and the chances for and against the making of a little money. At this meal she used to arrange also to have the room re-papered and the chimney swept and the rat-holes stopped up—there were three of these, one was on the left-hand side of the fire grate, the other two were under the bed, and Mary Makebelieve had lain awake many a night listening to the gnawing of teeth on the skirting and the scamper of little feet here and there on the floor. Her mother further arranged to have a Turkey carpet placed on the floor, although she admitted that oilcloth or linoleum was easier to clean, but they were not so nice to the feet or the eye. Into all these improvements her daughter entered with the greatest delight. There was to be a red mahogany chest of drawers against one wall and a rosewood piano against the wall opposite. A fender of shining brass with brazen furniture, a bright, copper kettle for boiling water in, and an iron pot for cooking potatoes and meat; there was to be a life-sized picture of Mary over the mantelpiece and a picture of her mother near the window in a golden frame, also a picture of a Newfoundland dog lying in a barrel and a little wee terrier crawling up to make friends with him, and a picture of a battle between black people and soldiers.
Her mother knew it was time to get out of bed when she heard a heavy step coming from the next room and going downstairs. A laboring man lived there with his wife and six children. When the door banged she jumped up, dressed quickly, and flew from the room in a panic of haste. Usually then, as there was nothing to do, Mary went back to bed for another couple of hours. After this she arose, made the bed and tidied the room, and went out to walk in the streets, or to sit in the St. Stephen's Green Park. She knew every bird in the Park, those that had chickens and those that had had chickens, and those that never had any chickens at all—these latter were usually drakes, and had reason on their side for an abstention which might otherwise have appeared remarkable, but they did not deserve the pity which Mary lavished on their childlessness, nor the extra pieces of bread with which she sought to recompense them. She loved to watch the ducklings swimming after their mothers: they were quite fearless, and would dash to the water's edge where one was standing and pick up nothing with the greatest eagnerness and swallow it with delight. The mother duck swam placidly close to her brood and clucked in a low voice all kinds of warnings and advice and reproof to the little ones. Mary Makebelieve thought it was very clever of the little ducklings to be able to swim so well. She loved them, and when nobody was looking she used to cluck at them like their mother, but she did not often do this because she did not know duck language really well, and feared that her cluck might mean the wrong things, and that she might be giving these innocents bad advice, and telling them to do something contrary to what their mother had just directed.
The bridge across the big lake was a fascinating place. On the sunny side lots of ducks were always standing on their heads searching for something in the water, so that they looked like only half ducks. On the shady side hundreds of eels were swimming about—they were most wonderful things; some of them were thin like ribbons, and others were round and plump like thick ropes. They never seemed to fight at all, and although the ducklings were so tiny the big eels never touched any of them, even when they dived right down amongst them. Some of the eels swam along very slowly, looking on this side and on that as if they were out of work or up from the country, and others whizzed by with incredible swiftness. Mary Makebelieve thought that the latter kind had just heard their babies crying; she wondered, when a little fish cried, could its mother see the tears where there was already so much water about, and then she thought that maybe they cried hard lumps of something that was easily visible.
After this she would go around the flower-beds and look at each; some of them were shaped like stars, and some were quite round, and others again were square. She liked the star-shaped flower-beds best, and next she liked the round ones, and last of all the square. But she loved all the flowers, and used to make up stories about them.
After that, growing hungry, she would go home for her lunch. She went home down Grafton Street and O'Connell Street. She always went along the right-hand side of the street going home, and looked in every shop window that she passed, and then, when she had eaten her lunch, she came out again and walked along the left-hand side of the road, looking at the shops on that side, and so she knew daily everything that was new in the city, and was able to tell her mother at nighttime that the black dress with Spanish lace was taken out of Manning's window and a red gown with tucks at the shoulders and Irish lace at the wrists put in its place; or that the diamond ring in Johnson's marked One Hundred Pounds was gone from the case and that a slide of brooches of beaten silver and blue enamel was there instead.
In the nighttime her mother and herself went round to each of the theaters in turn and watched the people going in and looked at the big posters. When they went home afterwards they had supper and used to try to make out the plots of the various plays from the pictures they had seen, so that generally they had lots to talk about before they went to bed. Mary Makebelieve used to talk most in the nighttime, but her mother talked most in the morning.
Her mother spoke sometimes of matrimony as a thing remote but very certain; the remoteness of this adventure rather shocked Mary Makebelieve; she knew that a girl had to get married, that a strange, beautiful man would come from somewhere looking for a wife and would retire again with his bride to that Somewhere which is the country of Romance. At times (and she could easily picture it) he rode in armor on a great bay horse, the plume of his helmet trailing among the high leaves of the forest. Or he came standing on the prow of a swift ship with the sunlight blazing back from his golden armor. Or on a grassy plain, fleet as the wind, he came running, leaping, laughing.
When the subject of matrimony was under discussion her mother planned minutely the person of the groom, his vast accomplishments, and yet vaster wealth, the magnificence of his person, and the love in which he was held by rich and poor alike. She also discussed, down to the smallest detail, the elaborate trousseau she would provide for her daughter, the extravagant presents the bridegroom would make to his bride and her maids, and those, yet more costly, which the bridegroom's family would send to the newly married pair. All these wonders could only concentrate in the person of a lord. Mary Makebelieve's questions as to the status and appurtenances of a lord were searching and minute, her mother's rejoinders were equally elaborate and particular.
At his birth a lord is cradled in silver, at his death he is laid in a golden casket, an oaken coffin, and a leaden outer coffin until, finally, a massy stone sarcophagus shrouds his remains forever. His life is a whirl of gayety and freedom. Around his castle there spread miles upon miles of sunny grass lands and ripened orchards and waving forests, and through these he hunts with his laughing companions or walks gently with his lady. He has servants by the thousand, each anxious to die for him, and his wealth, prodigious beyond the computation of avarice, is stored in underground chambers, whose low, tortuous passages lead to labyrinths of vaults, massy and impregnable.
Mary Makebelieve would have loved to wed a lord. If a lord had come to her when she paced softly through a forest, or stood alone on the seashore, or crouched among the long grass of a windy plain, she would have placed her hands in his and followed him and loved him truly forever. But she did not believe that these things happened nowadays, nor did her mother. Nowadays! her mother looked on these paltry times with an eye whose scorn was complicated by fury. Mean, ugly days, mean, ugly lives, and mean, ugly people, said her mother, that's all one can get nowadays, and then she spoke of the people whose houses she washed out and whose staircases she scrubbed down, and her old-ivory face flamed from her black hair and her deep, dark eyes whirled and became hard and motionless as points of jet, and her hands jumped alternately into knuckles and claws.
But it became increasingly evident to Mary Makebelieve that marriage was not a story but a fact, and, somehow, the romance of it did not drift away, although the very house wherein she lived was infested by these conjoints, and the streets wherein she walked were crowded with undistinguished couples.... Those gray-lived, dreary-natured people had a spark of fire smoldering somewhere in their poor economy. Six feet deep is scarcely deep enough to bury romance, and until that depth of clay has clogged our bones the fire can still smolder and be fanned, and, perhaps, blaze up and flare across a county or a country to warm the cold hands of many a shriveled person.
How did all these people come together? She did not yet understand the basic necessity that drives the male to the female. Sex was not yet to her a physiological distinction, it was only a differentiation of clothing, a matter of whiskers and no whiskers: but she had begun to take a new and peculiar interest in men. One of these hurrying or loitering strangers might be the husband whom fate had ordained for her. She would scarcely have been surprised if one of the men who looked at her casually in the street had suddenly halted and asked her to marry him. It came on her with something like assurance that that was the only business these men were there for, she could not discover any other reason or excuse for their existence, and if some man had been thus adventurous Mary Makebelieve would have been sadly perplexed to find an answer: she might, indeed, have replied, "Yes, thank you, sir," for when a man asks one to do a thing for him one does it gladly. There was an attraction about young men which she could not understand, something peculiarly dear and magnetic; she would have liked to shake hands with one to see how different he felt from a girl. They would, probably, shake hands quite hard and then hit one. She fancied she would not mind being hit by a man, and then, watching the vigor of their movements, she thought they could hit very hard, but still there was a terrible attraction about the idea of being hit by a man. She asked her mother (with apparent irrelevance) had a man ever struck her; her mother was silent for a few moments, and then burst into so violent a passion of weeping that Mary Makebelieve was frightened. She rushed into her mother's arms and was rocked fiercely against a heart almost bursting with bitter pride and recollection. But her mother did not then, nor did she ever afterwards, answer Mary Makebelieve's question.
Every afternoon a troop of policemen marched in solemn and majestic single file from the College Green Police Station. At regular intervals, one by one, a policeman stepped sideways from the file, adjusted his belt, touched his moustache, looked up the street and down the street for stray criminals, and condescended to the duties of his beat.
At the crossing where Nassau and Suffolk streets intersect Grafton Street one of these superb creatures was wont to relinquish his companions, and there in the center of the road, a monument of solidity and law, he remained until the evening hour which released him again to the companionship of his peers.
Perhaps this point is the most interesting place in Dublin. Upon one vista Grafton Street with its glittering shops stretches, or rather winds, to the St. Stephen's Green Park, terminating at the gate known as the Fusiliers' Arch, but which local patriotism has rechristened the Traitors' Gate. On the left Nassau Street, broad and clean, and a trifle vulgar and bourgeois in its openness, runs away to Merrion Square, and on with a broad ease to Blackrock and Kingstown and the sea. On the right hand Suffolk Street, reserved and shy, twists up to St. Andrew's Church, touches gingerly the South City Markets, droops to George's Street, and is lost in mean and dingy intersections. At the back of the crossing Grafton Street continues again for a little distance down to Trinity College (at the gates whereof very intelligent young men flaunt very tattered gowns and smoke massive pipes with great skill for their years), skirting the Bank of Ireland, and on to the River Liffey and the street which local patriotism defiantly speaks of as O'Connell Street, and alien patriotism, with equal defiance and pertinacity, knows as Sackville Street.
To the point where these places meet, and where the policeman stands, all the traffic of Dublin converges in a constant stream. The trams hurrying to Terenure, or Donnybrook, or Dalkey flash around this corner; the doctors who, in these degenerate days, concentrate in Merrion Square, fly up here in carriages and motor cars, the vans of the great firms in Grafton and O'Connell streets, or those outlying, never cease their exuberant progress. The ladies and gentlemen of leisure stroll here daily at four o'clock, and from all sides the vehicles and pedestrians, the bicycles and motor bicycles, the trams and the outside cars rush to the solitary policeman, who directs them all with his severe but tolerant eye. He knows all the tram-drivers who go by, and his nicely graduated wink rewards the glances of the rubicund, jolly drivers of the hackneys and the decayed Jehus with purple faces and dismal hopefulness who drive sepulchral cabs for some reason which has no acquaintance with profit; nor are the ladies and gentlemen who saunter past foreign to his encyclopedic eye. Constantly his great head swings a slow recognition, constantly his serene finger motions onwards a well-known undesirable, and his big, white teeth flash for an instant at young, laughing girls and the more matronly acquaintances who solicit the distinction of his glance.
To this place, and about this hour, Mary Makebelieve, returning from her solitary lunch, was wont to come. The figure of the massive policeman fascinated her. Surely everything desirable in manhood was concentrated in his tremendous body. What an immense, shattering blow that mighty fist could give! She could imagine it swinging vast as the buffet of a hero, high-thrown and then down irresistibly—a crashing, monumental hand. She delighted in his great, solid head as it swung slowly from side to side, and his calm, proud eye—a governing, compelling and determined eye. She had never met his glance yet: she withered away before it as a mouse withers and shrinks and falls to its den before a cat's huge glare. She used to look at him from the curbstone in front of the chemist's shop, or on the opposite side of the road, while pretending to wait for a tram; and at the pillar-box beside the optician's she found time for one furtive twinkle of a glance that shivered to his face and trembled away into the traffic. She did not think he noticed her, but there was nothing he did not notice. His business was noticing: he caught her in his mental policeman's note-book the very first day she came; he saw her each day beside, and at last looked for her coming and enjoyed her strategy. One day her shy, creeping glance was caught by his; it held her mesmerized for a few seconds, it looked down into her—for a moment the whole world seemed to have become one immense eye—she could scarcely get away from it.
When she remembered again she was standing by the pond in St. Stephen's Green Park, with a queer frightened exaltation lightening through her blood. She did not go home that night by Grafton Street, she did not dare venture within reach of that powerful organism, but went a long way round, and still the way seemed very short.
That night her mother, although very tired, was the more talkative of the two. She offered in exchange for her daughter's thoughts pennies that only existed in her imagination. Mary Makebelieve professed that it was sleep and not thought obsessed her, and exhibited voucher yawns which were as fictitious as her reply. When they went to bed that night it was a long time before she slept. She lay looking into the deep gloom of the chamber, and scarcely heard the fierce dreams of her mother, who was demanding from a sleep world the things she lacked in the wide-awake one.
This is the appearance of Mary Makebelieve at that time:—She had fair hair, and it was very soft and very thick; when she unwound this it fell, or rather flowed, down to her waist, and when she walked about the room with her hair unloosened it curved beautifully about her head, snuggled into the hollow of her neck, ruffled out broadly again upon her shoulders, and swung into and out of her figure with every motion; surging and shrinking and dancing; the ends of her hair were soft and loose as foam, and it had the color and shining of pure, light gold. Commonly in the house she wore her hair loose, because her mother liked the appearance of youth imparted by hanging hair, and would often desire her daughter to leave off her outer skirt and walk only in her petticoats to heighten the illusion of girlishness. Her head was shaped very tenderly and softly; it was so small that when her hair was twisted up on it it seemed much too delicate to bear so great a burden. Her eyes were gray, limpidly tender and shy, drooping under weighty lids, so that they seldom seemed more than half opened and commonly sought the ground rather than the bolder excursions of straightforwardness; they seldom looked for longer than a glance, climbing and poising and eddying about the person at whom she gazed, and then dived away again; and always when she looked at any one she smiled a deprecation of her boldness. She had a small white face, very like her mother's in some ways and at some angles, but the tight beak which was her mother's nose was absent in Mary; her nose withdrew timidly in the center and only snatched a hurried courage to become visible at the tip. It was a nose that seemed to have been snubbed almost out of existence. Her mother loved it because it was so little, and had tried so hard not to be a nose at all. They often stood together before the little glass that had a great crack running drunkenly from the right-hand top corner down to the left-hand bottom corner, and two small arm crosses, one a little above the other, in the center. When one's face looked into this glass it often appeared there as four faces with horrible aberrations; an ear might be curving around a lip or an eye leering strangely in the middle of a chin. But there were ways of looking into the glass which practice had discovered, and usage had long ago dulled the terrors of its vagaries. Looking into this glass Mrs. Makebelieve would comment minutely upon the two faces therein, and, pointing to her own triumphantly genuine nose and the fact that her husband's nose had been of quite discernible proportions, she would seek in labyrinths of pedigree for a reason to justify her daughter's lack; she passed all her sisters in this review, with an army of aunts and great-aunts, rifling the tombs of grandparents and their remoter blood, and making long-dead noses to live again. Mary Makebelieve used to lift her timidly curious eye and smile in deprecation of her nasal shortcomings, and then her mother would kiss the dejected button and vow it was the dearest, loveliest bit of a nose that had ever been seen.
"Big noses suit some people," said Mrs. Makebelieve, "but they do not suit others, and one would not suit you, dearie. They go well with black-haired people and very tall people, military gentlemen, judges and apothecaries; but small, fair folk cannot support great noses. I like my own nose," she continued. "At school, when I was a little girl, the other girls used to laugh at my nose, but I always liked it, and after a time other people came to like it also."
Mary Makebelieve had small, slim hands and feet: the palms of her hands were softer than anything in the world; there were five little, pink cushions on her palm: beginning at the little finger there was a very tiny cushion, the next one was bigger, and the next bigger again, until the largest ended a perfect harmony at the base of her thumb. Her mother used to kiss these little cushions at times, holding back the finger belonging to each, and naming it as she touched it. These are the names of Mary Makebelieve's fingers, beginning with the Thumb:—Tom Tumkins, Willie Winkles, Long Daniel, Bessie Bobtail and Little Dick-Dick.
Her slight, girlish figure was only beginning to creep to the deeper contours of womanhood, a half curve here and there, a sudden softness in the youthful lines, certain angles trembling on the slightest of rolls, a hint, a suggestion, the shadowy prophecy of circles and half hoops that could not yet roll: the trip of her movements was troubled sometimes to a sedater motion.
These things her mother's curiosity was continually recording, sometimes with happy pride, but oftener in a kind of anger to find that her little girl was becoming a big girl. If it had been possible she would have detained her daughter forever in the physique of a child; she feared the time when Mary would become too evidently a woman, when all kinds of equalities would come to hinder her spontaneous and active affection. A woman might object to be nursed, while a girl would not; Mrs. Makebelieve feared that objection, and, indeed, Mary, under the stimulus of an awakening body and a new, strange warmth, was not altogether satisfied by being nursed or by being the passive participant in these caresses. She sometimes thought that she would like to take her mother on her own breast and rock her to and fro, crooning soft made-up words and kissing the top of a head or the half-hidden curve of a cheek, but she did not dare to do so for fear her mother would strike her. Her mother was very jealous on that point, she loved her daughter to kiss her and stroke her hands and her face, but she never liked her to play at being the mother, nor had she ever encouraged her daughter in the occupations of a doll. She was the mother and Mary was the baby, and she could not bear to have her motherhood hindered even in play.
Although Mary Makebelieve was sixteen years of age she had not yet gone to work; her mother did not like the idea of her little girl stooping to the drudgery of the only employment she could have aided her to obtain—that was, to assist herself in the humble and arduous toil of charing. She had arranged that Mary was to go into a shop, a drapery store, or some such other, but that was to be in a sometime which seemed infinitely remote. "And then, too," said Mrs. Makebelieve, "all kinds of things may happen in a year or so if we wait. Your uncle Patrick, who went to America twenty years ago, may come home, and when he does you will not have to work, dearie, nor will I. Or again, some one going along the street may take a fancy to you and marry you; things often happen like that." There were a thousand schemes and accidents which, in her opinion, might occur to the establishment of her daughter's ease and the enlargement of her own dignity. And so Mary Makebelieve, when her mother was at work (which was sometimes every day in the week), had all the day to loiter in and spend as best she liked. Sometimes she did not go out at all. She stayed in the top back room sewing or knitting, mending holes in the sheets or the blankets, or reading books from the Free Library in Capel Street: but generally she preferred, after the few hours which served to put the room in order, to go out and walk along the streets, taking new turnings as often as she fancied, and striking down strange roads to see the shops and the people.
There were so many people whom she knew by sight; almost daily she saw these somewhere, and she often followed them for a short distance, with a feeling of friendship; for the loneliness of the long day often drew down upon her like a weight, so that even the distant companionship of these remembered faces that did not know her was comforting. She wished she could find out who some of them were.—There was a tall man with a sweeping brown beard, whose heavy overcoat looked as though it had been put on with a shovel; he wore spectacles, and his eyes were blue, and always seemed as if they were going to laugh; he, also, looked into the shops as he went along, and he seemed to know everybody. Every few paces people would halt and shake his hand, but these people never spoke because the big man with the brown beard would instantly burst into a fury of speech which had no intervals, and when there was no one with him at all he would talk to himself. On these occasions he did not see any one, and people had to jump out of his way while he strode onwards swinging his big head from one side to the other, and with his eyes fixed on some place a great distance away. Once or twice, in passing, she heard him singing to himself the most lugubrious song in the world. There was another—a long, thin, black man—who looked young and was always smiling secretly to himself; his lips were never still for a moment, and, passing Mary Makebelieve a few times, she heard him buzzing like a great bee. He did not stop to shake hands with any one, and although many people saluted him he took no heed, but strode on smiling his secret smile and buzzing serenely. There was a third man whom she often noticed: his clothing seemed as if it had been put on him a long time ago and had never been taken off again. He had a long, pale face, with a dark moustache drooping over a most beautiful mouth. His eyes were very big and lazy, and did not look quite human; they had a trick of looking sidewards—a most intimate, personal look. Sometimes he saw nothing in the world but the pavement, and at other times he saw everything. He looked at Mary Makebelieve once and she got a fright; she had a queer idea that she had known him well hundreds of years before and that he remembered her also. She was afraid of that man, but she liked him because he looked so gentle and so—there was something else he looked which as yet she could not put a name to, but which her ancestry remembered dimly. There was a short, fair, pale-faced man, who looked like the tiredest man in the world. He was often preoccupied, but not in the singular way the others were. He seemed to be always chewing the cud of remembrance, and looked at people as if they reminded him of other people who were dead a long time and whom he thought of but did not regret. He was a detached man even in a crowd and carried with him a cold atmosphere; even his smile was bleak and aloof. Mary Makebelieve noticed that many people nudged each other as he went by, and then they would turn and look after him and go away whispering.
These and many others she saw almost daily, and used to look for with a feeling of friendship. At other times she walked up the long line of quays sentineling the Liffey, watching the swift boats of Guinness puffing down the river and the thousands of sea-gulls hovering above or swimming on the dark waters, until she came to the Phoenix Park, where there was always a cricket or football match being played, or some young men or girls playing hurley, or children playing tip-and-tig, running after one another, and dancing and screaming in the sunshine. Her mother liked very much to go with her to the Phoenix Park on days when there was no work to be done. Leaving the great, white main road, up which the bicycles and motor cars are continually whizzing, a few minutes' walk brings one to quiet alleys sheltered by trees and groves of hawthorn. In these passages one can walk for a long time without meeting a person, or lie on the grass in the shadow of a tree and watch the sunlight beating down on the green fields and shimmering between the trees. There is a deep silence to be found here, very strange and beautiful to one fresh from the city, and it is strange also to look about in the broad sunshine and see no person near at all, and no movement saving the roll and folding of the grass, the slow swinging of the branches of the trees or the noiseless flight of a bee, a butterfly, or a bird.
These things Mary Makebelieve liked, but her mother would pine for the dances of the little children, the gallant hurrying of the motor cars, and the movement to and fro of the people with gay dresses and colored parasols and all the circumstance of holiday.
One morning Mary Makebelieve jumped out of bed and lit the fire. For a wonder it lit easily: the match was scarcely applied when the flames were leaping up the black chimney, and this made her feel at ease with the world. Her mother stayed in bed chatting with something more of gayety than usual. It was nearly six o'clock, and the early summer sun was flooding against the grimy window. The previous evening's post had brought a post-card for Mrs. Makebelieve, requesting her to call on a Mrs. O'Connor, who had a house off Harcourt Street. This, of course, meant a day's work—it also meant a new client.
Mrs. Makebelieve's clients were always new. She could not remain for any length of time in people's employment without being troubled by the fact that these folk had houses of their own and were actually employing her in a menial capacity. She sometimes looked at their black silk aprons in a way which they never failed to observe with anger, and on their attempting (as they always termed it) to put her in her proper place, she would discuss their appearance and morals with such power that they at once dismissed her from their employment and incited their husbands to assault her.
Mrs. Makebelieve's mind was exercised in finding out who had recommended her to this new lady, and in what terms of encomium such recommendation had been framed. She also debated as to whether it would be wise to ask for one shilling and ninepence per day instead of the customary one shilling and sixpence. If the house was a big one she might be required by this new customer oftener than once a week, and, perhaps, there were others in the house besides the lady who would find small jobs for her to do—needlework or messages, or some such which would bring in a little extra money; for she professed her willingness and ability to undertake with success any form of work in which a woman could be eminent. In a house where she had worked she had once been asked by a gentleman who lodged there to order in two dozen bottles of stout, and, on returning with the stout, the gentleman had thanked her and given her a shilling. Incidents parallel to this had kept her faith in humanity green. There must be plenty of these open-handed gentlemen in houses such as she worked in, and, perhaps, in Mrs. O'Connor's house there might be more than one such person. There were stingy people enough, heaven knew, people who would get one to run messages and almost expect to be paid themselves for allowing one to work for them. Mrs. Makebelieve anathematized such skinflints with a vocabulary which was quite equal to the detailing of their misdeeds; but she refused to dwell on them: they were not really important in a world where the sun was shining. In the nighttime she would again believe in their horrible existences, but until then the world must be peopled with kind-hearted folk. She instanced many whom she knew, people who had advanced services and effects without exacting or indeed expecting any return.
When the tea was balanced insecurely on the bed, the two teacups on one side of her legs, the three-quarters of a loaf and the tin of condensed milk on the other, Mary sat down with great care, and all through the breakfast her mother culled from her capacious memory a list of kindnesses of which she had been the recipient or the witness. Mary supplemented the recital by incidents from her own observation. She had often seen a man in the street give a penny to an old woman. She had often seen old women give things to other old women. She knew many people who never looked for the halfpenny change from a newsboy. Mrs. Makebelieve applauded the justice of such transactions; they were, she admitted, the things she would do herself if she were in a position to be careless; but a person to whom the discovery of her daily bread is a daily problem, and who can scarcely keep pace with the ever-changing terms of the problem, is not in a position to be careless.—"Grind, grind, grind," said Mrs. Makebelieve, "that is life for me, and if I ceased to grind for an instant ..." she flickered her thin hand into a nowhere of terror. Her attitude was that when one had enough one should give the residue to some one who had not enough. It was her woe, it stabbed her to the heart, to see desolate people dragging through the streets, standing to glare through the windows of bakeries and confectioners' shops, and little children in some of these helpless arms! Thinking of these, she said that every morsel she ate would choke her were it not for her own hunger. But maybe, said she, catching a providential glance of the golden-tinted window, maybe these poor people were not as poor as they seemed: surely they had ways of collecting a living which other people did not know anything about. It might be that they got lots of money from kind-hearted people, and food at hospitable doors, and here and there clothing and oddments which, if they did not wear, they knew how to dispose of advantageously. What extremes of ways and means such people must be acquainted with! no ditch was too low to rummage in, no rat-hole too hidden to be ravaged; a gate represented something to be climbed over: an open door was an invitation, a locked one a challenge. They could dodge under the fences of the law and climb the barbed wire of morality with equal impunity, and the utmost rigor of punishment had little terror for those whose hardships could scarcely be artificially worsened. The stagger of despair, the stricken, helpless aspect of such people, their gaunt faces and blurred eyes might conceivably be their stock-in-trade, the keys wherewith they unlocked hearts and purses and area-doors. It must be so when the sun was shining and birds were singing across fields not immeasurably distant, and children in walled gardens romped among fruits and flowers. She would believe this, for it was the early morning when one must believe, but when the nighttime came again she would laugh to scorn such easy beliefs, she would see the lean ribs of humanity when she undressed herself.
After her mother had gone Mary Makebelieve occupied herself settling the room and performing the various offices which the keeping in order of even one small room involves. There were pieces of the wall-paper flapping loosely; these had to be gummed down with strips of stamp-paper. The bed had to be made, the floor scrubbed, and a miscellany of objects patted and tapped into order. Her few dresses also had to be gone over for loose buttons, and the darning of threadbare places was a duty exercising her constant attention. Her clothing was always made by her mother, whose needle had once been noted for expertness, and, therefore, fitted more accurately than is customary in young girls' dresses. The arranging and rearranging of her beads was a frequent and enjoyable labor. She had four different necklaces, representing four different pennyworths of beads purchased at a shop whose merchandise was sold for one penny per item. One pennyworth of these beads was colored green, another red, a third was colored like pearls, and the fourth was a miscellaneous packet of many colors. A judicious selection of these beads could always provide a new and magnificent necklace at the expense of little more than a half-hour's easy work.
Because the sun was shining she brought out her white dress, and for a time was busy on it. There had been five tucks in the dress, but one after one they had to be let out. This was the last tuck that remained, and it also had to go, but even with such extra lengthening the dress would still swing free of her ankles. Her mother had promised to add a false hem to it when she got time, and Mary determined to remind her of this promise as soon as she came in from work. She polished her shoes, put on the white dress, and then did up her hair in front of the cracked looking-glass. She always put up her hair very plainly. She first combed it down straight, then parted it in the center, and rolled it into a great ball at the back of her neck. She often wished to curl her hair, and, indeed, it would have curled with the lightest persuasion: but her mother being approached on the subject, said that curls were common and were seldom worn by respectable people, excepting very small children or actresses, both of whose slender mentalities were registered by these tiny daintinesses. Also, curls took up too much time in arranging, and the slightest moisture in the air was liable to draw them down into lank and unsightly plasters, and, therefore, saving for a dance or a picnic, curls should not be used.
Mary Makebelieve, having arranged her hair, hesitated for some time in the choice of a necklace. There was the pearl-colored necklace—it was very pretty, but every one could tell at once that they were not genuine pearls. Real pearls of the bigness of these would be very valuable. Also there was something childish about pearls which latterly she wished to avoid. She had quite grown up now. The letting down of the last tuck in her dress marked an epoch as distinct as did the first rolling up of her hair. She wished her dress would go right down to her heels so that she might have a valid reason for holding up her skirts with one hand. She felt a trifle of impatience because her mother had delayed making the false hem; she could have stitched it on herself if her mother had cut it out, but for this day the dress would have to do. She wished she owned a string of red coral; not that round beady sort, but the jagged crisscross coral—a string of these long enough to go twice round her neck, and yet hang down in front to her waist. If she owned a string as long as that she might be able to cut enough off to make a slender wristlet. She would have loved to see such a wristlet sagging down to her hand.
Red, it seemed, would have to be the color for this day, so she took the red beads out of a box and put them on. They looked very nice against her white dress, but still—she did not quite like them: they seemed too solid, so she put them back into the box again, and instead tied round her neck a narrow ribbon of black velvet, which satisfied her better. Next she put on her hat; it was of straw, and had been washed many times. There was a broad ribbon of black velvet around it. She wished earnestly that she had a sash of black velvet about three inches deep to go round her waist. There was such a piece about the hem of her mother's Sunday skirt, but, of course, that could not be touched; maybe, her mother would give it to her if she asked. The skirt would look quite as well without it, and when her mother knew how nice it looked round her waist she would certainly give it to her.
She gave a last look at herself in the glass and went out, turning up to the quays in the direction of the Phoenix Park. The sun was shining gloriously, and the streets seemed wonderfully clean in the sunlight. The horses under the heavy drays pulled their loads as if they were not heavy. The big, red-faced drivers leaned back at ease, with their hard hats pushed back from their foreheads and their eyes puckered at the sunshine. The tram-cars whizzed by like great jewels. The outside cars went spanking down the broad road, and every jolly-faced jarvey winked at her as he jolted by. The people going up and down the street seemed contented and happy. It was one o'clock, and from all kinds of offices and shops young men and women were darting forth for their lunch; none of the young men were so hurried but they had a moment to glance admiringly at Mary Makebelieve before diving into a cheap restaurant or cheaper public-house for their food. The gulls in the river were flying in long, lazy curves, dipping down to the water, skimming it an instant, and then wheeling up again with easy, slanting wings. Every few minutes a boat laden with barrels puffed swiftly from beneath a bridge. All these boats had pretty names—there was the Shannon, the Suir, the Nore, the Lagan, and many others. The men on board sat contentedly on the barrels and smoked and made slow remarks to one another; and overhead the sky was blue and wonderful, immeasurably distant, filled from horizon to horizon with sparkle and warmth. Mary Makebelieve went slowly on towards the Park. She felt very happy. Now and then a darker spot flitted through her mind, not at all obscuring, but toning the brightness of her thoughts to a realizable serenity. She wished her skirts were long enough to be held up languidly like the lady walking in front: the hand holding up the skirt had a golden curb-chain on the wrist which drooped down to the neatly gloved hand, and between each link of the chain was set a blue turquoise, and upon this jewel the sun danced splendidly. Mary Makebelieve wished she had a slender red coral wristlet; it also would have hung down to her palm and been lovely in the sunlight, and it would, she thought, have been far nicer than the bangle.
She walked along for some time in the Park. Through the railings flanking the great road many beds of flowers could be seen. These were laid out in a great variety of forms—of stars and squares and crosses and circles, and the flowers were arranged in exquisite patterns. There was a great star which flamed with red flowers at the deep points, and in its heart a heavier mass of yellow blossom glared suddenly. There were circles wherein each ring was a differently colored flower, and others where three rings alternated—three rings white, three purple, and three orange, and so on in slenderer circles to the tiniest diminishing. Mary Makebelieve wished she knew the names of all the flowers, but the only ones she recognized by sight were the geraniums, some species of roses, violets, and forget-me-nots and pansies. The more exotic sorts she did not know, and, while she admired them greatly, she had not the same degree of affection for them as for the commoner, friendly varieties.
Leaving the big road she wandered into wider fields. In a few moments the path was hidden, the outside cars, motor cars and bicycles had vanished as completely as though there were no such things in the world. Great numbers of children were playing about in distinct bands; each troop was accompanied by one and sometimes two older people, girls or women who lay stretched out on the warm grass or leaned against the tree-trunks reading novelettes, and around them the children whirled and screamed and laughed. It was a world of waving pinafores and thin black-stockinged legs and shrill, sweet voices. In the great spaces the children's voices had a strangely remote quality; the sweet, high tones were not such as one heard in the streets or in houses. In a house or a street these voices thudded upon the air and beat sonorously back again from the walls, the houses, or the pavements; but out here the slender sounds sang to a higher tenuity and disappeared out and up and away into the tree-tops and the clouds and the wide, windy reaches. The little figures partook also of this diminuendo effect; against the great grassy curves they seemed smaller than they really were; the trees stirred hugely above them, the grass waved vast beneath them, and the sky ringed them in from immensity. Their forms scarcely disturbed the big outline of nature, their laughter only whispered against the silence, as ineffectual to disturb that gigantic serenity as a gnat's wing fluttered against a precipice.
Mary Makebelieve wandered on; a few cows lifted solemnly curious faces as she passed and swung their heavy heads behind her. Once or twice half a dozen deer came trotting from beyond the trees, and were shocked to a halt on seeing her—a moment's gaze, and away like the wind, bounding in a delicious freedom. Now a butterfly came twisting on some eccentric journey—ten wing-beats to the left, twenty to the right, and then back to the left, or, with a sudden twist, returning on the path which it had already traversed, jerking carelessly through the sunlight. Across the sky very far up a troop of birds sailed definitely—they knew where they were going; momently one would detach itself from the others in a burst of joyous energy and sweep a great circle and back again to its comrades, and then away, away, away to the skyline.—Ye swift ones! O, freedom and sweetness! A song falling from the heavens! A lilt through deep sunshine! Happy wanderers! How fast ye fly and how bravely—up and up, till the earth has fallen away and the immeasurable heavens and the deep loneliness of the sunlight and the silence of great spaces receive you!
Mary Makebelieve came to a tree around which a circular wooden seat had been placed. Here for a time she sat looking out on the wide fields. Far away in front the ground rolled down into valleys and up into little hills, and from the valleys the green heads of trees emerged, and on the farther hills, in slender, distinct silhouette, and in great masses, entire trees could be seen. Nearer were single trees, each with its separate shadow and a stream of sunlight flooding between; and everywhere the greenery of leaves and of grass and the gold of myriad buttercups and multitudes of white daisies.
She had been sitting for some time when a shadow came from behind her. She watched its lengthening and its queer bobbing motion. When it grew to its greatest length it ceased to move. She felt that some one had stopped. From the shape of the shadow she knew it was a man, but being so close she did not like to look. Then a voice spoke. It was a voice as deep as the rolling of a sea.
"Hello," said the voice; "what are you doing here all alone, young lady?"
Mary Makebelieve's heart suddenly spurted to full speed. It seemed to want more space than her bosom could afford. She looked up. Beside her stood a prodigious man: one lifted hand curled his moustache, the other carelessly twirled a long cane. He was dressed in ordinary clothing, but Mary Makebelieve knew him at once for that great policeman who guided the traffic at the Grafton Street crossing.
The policeman told her wonderful things. He informed her why the Phoenix Park was called the Phoenix Park. He did not believe there was a phoenix in the Zoological Gardens, although they probably had every kind of bird in the world there. It had never struck him, now he came to think of it, to look definitely for that bird, but he would do so the next time he went into the Gardens. Perhaps the young lady would allow him (it would be a much-appreciated privilege) to escort her through the Gardens some fine day, the following day for instance.... He rather inclined to the belief that the phoenix was extinct—that is, died out; and then, again, when he called to mind the singular habits with which this bird was credited, he conceived that it had never had a real but only a mythical existence—that is, it was a makebelieve bird, a kind of fairy tale.
He further informed Mary Makebelieve that this Park was the third largest in the world, but the most beautiful. His evidence for this statement was not only the local newspapers, whose opinion might be biased by patriotism—that is, led away from the exact truth—but in the more stable testimony of reputable English journals, such as Answers and Tit-Bits and Pearson's Weekly, he found an authoritative and gratifying confirmation—that is, they agreed. He cited for Mary Makebelieve's incredulity the exact immensity of the Park in miles, in yards, and in acres, and the number of head of cattle which could be accommodated therein if it were to be utilized for grazing—that is, turned into grass lands; or, if transformed into tillage, the number of small farmers who would be the proprietors of economic holdings—that is, a recondite—that is, an abstruse and a difficult scientific and sociological term.
Mary Makebelieve scarcely dared lift her glance to his face. An uncontrollable shyness had taken possession of her. Her eyes could not lift without an effort: they fluttered vainly upwards, but before reaching any height they flinched aside and drooped again to her lap. The astounding thought that she was sitting beside a man warmed and affrighted her blood so that it rushed burningly to her cheeks and went shuddering back again coldly. Her downcast eyes were almost mesmerized by the huge tweed-clad knees which towered like monoliths beside her. They rose much higher than her knees did, and extended far out more than a foot and a half beyond her own modest stretch. Her knees slanted gently downwards as she sat, but his jagged straightly forward, like the immovable knees of a god which she had seen once in the Museum. On one of these great knees an equally great hand rested. Automatically she placed her own hand on her lap and, awe-stricken, tried to measure the difference. Her hand was very tiny and as white as snow: it seemed so light that the breathing of a wind might have fluttered it. The wrist was slender and delicate, and through its milky covering faint blue veins glimmered. A sudden and passionate wish came to her as she watched her wrist. She wished she had a red coral bracelet on it, or a chain of silver beaten into flat discs, or even two twists of little green beads. The hand that rested on the neighboring knee was bigger by three times than her own, the skin on it was tanned to the color of ripe mahogany-wood, and the heat of the day had caused great purple veins to grow in knots and ridges across the back and running in big twists down to the wrists. The specific gravity of that hand seemed tremendous; she could imagine it holding down the strong neck of a bull. It moved continually while he spoke to her, closing in a tense strong grip that changed the mahogany color to a dull whiteness and opening again to a ponderous, inert width.
She was ashamed that she could find nothing to say. Her vocabulary had suddenly and miserably diminished to a "yes" and "no," only tolerably varied by a timid "indeed" and "I did not know that." Against the easy clamor of his speech she could find nothing to oppose, and ordinarily her tongue tripped and eddied and veered as easily and nonchalantly as a feather in a wind. But he did not mind silence. He interpreted it rightly as the natural homage of a girl to a policeman. He liked this homage because it helped him to feel as big as he looked, and he had every belief in his ability to conduct a polite and interesting conversation with any lady for an indefinite time.
After a while Mary Makebelieve arose and was about bidding him a timid good-by. She wished to go away to her own little room where she could look at herself and ask herself questions. She wanted to visualize herself sitting under a tree beside a man. She knew that she could reconstruct him to the smallest detail, but feared that she might not be able to reconstruct herself. When she arose he also stood up and fell so naturally into step beside her that there was nothing to do but to walk straight on. He still withstood the burden of conversation easily and pleasantly and very learnedly. He discussed matters of high political and social moment, explaining generously the more unusual and learned words that bristled from his vocabulary. Soon they came to a more populous part of the Park. The children ceased from their play to gaze round-eyed at the little girl and the big man, their attendants looked and giggled and envied. Under these eyes Mary Makebelieve's walk became afflicted with a sideward bias which jolted her against her companion. She was furious with herself and ashamed. She set her teeth to walk easily and straightly, but constantly the jog of his elbow on her shoulder or the swing of his hand against her blouse sent her ambling wretchedly arms-length from him. When this had occurred half a dozen times she could have plumped down on the grass and wept loudly and without restraint. At the Park gate she stopped suddenly and with the courage of despair bade him good-by. He begged courteously to be allowed to see her a little way to her home, but she would not permit it, and so he lifted his hat to her. (Through her distress she could still note in a subterranean and half-conscious fashion the fact that this was the first time a man had ever uncovered before her.) As she went away down the road she felt that his eyes were following her and her tripping walk hurried almost to a run. She wished frantically that her dress was longer than it was—that false hem! If she could have gathered a skirt in her hand the mere holding on to something would have given her self-possession, but she feared he was looking critically at her short skirt and immodest ankles.
He stood for a time gazing after her with a smile on his great face. He knew that she knew he was watching, and as he stood he drew his hand from his pocket and tapped and smoothed his moustache. He had a red moustache; it grew very thickly, but was cropped short and square, and its fiber was so strong that it stood out above his lip like wire. One expected it to crackle when he touched it, but it never did.
When Mrs. Makebelieve came home that night she seemed very tired, and complained that her work at Mrs. O'Connor's house was arduous beyond any which she has yet engaged in. She enumerated the many rooms that were in the house: those that were covered with carpets, the margins whereof had to be beeswaxed: those others, only partially covered with rugs, which had to be entirely waxed: the upper rooms were uncarpeted and unrugged, and had, therefore, to be scrubbed: the basement, consisting of two red-flagged kitchens and a scullery, had also to be scoured out. The lady was very particular about the scouring of wainscotings and doors. The upper part of the staircase was bare and had to be scrubbed down, and the part down to the hall had a thin strip of carpet on it secured by brazen rods; the margins on either side of this carpet had to be beeswaxed and the brass rods polished. There was a great deal of unnecessary and vexatious brass of one kind or another scattered about the house, and as there were four children in the family, besides Mrs. O'Connor and her two sisters, the amount of washing which had constantly to be done was enormous and terrifying.
During their tea Mrs. Makebelieve called to mind the different ornaments which stood on the parlor mantelpiece and on the top of the piano. There was a china shepherdess with a basket of flowers at one end of the mantelpiece and an exact duplicate on the other. In the center a big clock of speckled marble was surmounted by a little domed edifice with Corinthian pillars in front, and this again was topped by the figure of an archer with a bent bow—there was nothing on top of this figure because there was not any room. Between each of these articles there stood little framed photographs of members of Mrs. O'Connor's family, and behind all there was a carved looking-glass with beveled edges having many shelves. Each shelf had a cup or a saucer or a china bowl on it. On the left-hand side of the fireplace there was a plaque whereon a young lady dressed in a sky-blue robe crossed by means of well-defined stepping-stones a thin but furious stream; the middle distance was embellished by a cow, and the horizon sustained two white lambs, a brown dog, a fountain and a sun-dial. On the right-hand side a young gentleman clad in a crimson coat and yellow knee-breeches carried a three-cornered hat under his arm, and he also crossed a stream which seemed the exact counterpart of the other one and whose perspective was similarly complicated. There were three pictures on each wall—nine in all; three of these were pictures of ships, three were pictures of battles: two portrayed saintly but emaciated personages sitting in peculiarly disheartening wildernesses (each wilderness contained one cactus plant and a camel). One of these personages stared fixedly at a skull, the other personage looked with intense firmness away from a lady of scant charms in a white and all too insufficient robe: above the robe a segment of the lady's bosom was hinted at bashfully—it was probably this the personage looked firmly away from. The remaining picture showed a little girl seated in a big armchair and reading with profound culture the most massive of bibles: she had her grandmother's mutch cap and spectacles on, and looked very sweet and solemn; a doll sat bolt upright beside her, and on the floor a kitten hunted a ball of wool with great earnestness.
All these things Mrs. Makebelieve discussed to her daughter, as also of the carpet which might have been woven in Turkey or elsewhere, the sideboard that possibly was not mahogany, and the chairs and occasional tables whose legs had attained to rickets through convulsions; the curtains of cream-colored lace which were reinforced by rep hangings and guarded shutters from Venice, also the deer's head which stood on a shelf over the door and was probably shot by a member of the family in a dream, and the splendid silver tankards which flanked this trophy and were possibly made of tin.
Mrs. Makebelieve further spoke of the personal characteristics of the householder with an asperity which was still restrained. She had a hairy chin, said Mrs. Makebelieve: she had buck teeth and a solid smile, and was given to telling people who knew their business how things ought to be done. Beyond this she would not say anything.—The amount of soap the lady allowed to wash out five rooms and a lengthy staircase was not as generous as one was accustomed to, but, possibly, she was well-meaning enough when one came to know her better.
Mary Makebelieve, apropos of nothing, asked her mother did she ever know a girl who got married to a policeman, and did she think that policemen were good men?
Her mother replied that policemen were greatly sought after as husbands for several reasons—firstly, they were big men, and big men are always good to look upon; secondly, their social standing was very high and their respectability undoubted; thirdly, a policeman's pay was such as would bring comfort to any household which was not needlessly and criminally extravagant; and this was often supplemented in a variety of ways which rumor only hinted at: there was also the safe prospect of a pension and the possibility of a sergeantship, where the emoluments were very great: and fourthly, a policeman, being subjected for many years to a rigorous discipline, would likely make a nice and obedient husband. Personally Mrs. Makebelieve did not admire policemen—they thought too much of themselves, and their continual pursuit of and intercourse with criminals tended to deteriorate their moral tone; also, being much admired by a certain type of woman, their morals were subjected to so continuous an assault that the wife of such a one would be worn to a shadow in striving to preserve her husband from designing and persistent females.
Mary Makebelieve said she thought it would be nice to have other women dying for love of one's husband, but her mother opposed this with the reflection that such people did not die for love at all, they were merely anxious to gratify a foolish and excessive pride or to inflict pain on respectable married women. On the whole, a policeman was not an ideal person to marry. The hours at which he came home were liable to constant and vexatious changes, so that there was a continual feeling of insecurity, which was bad for housekeeping; and if one had not stability in one's home all discipline and all real home life was at an end. There was this to be said for them—that they all loved little children. But, all things considered, a clerk made a better husband: his hours were regular and, knowing where he was at any moment, one's mind was at ease.
Mary Makebelieve was burning to tell some one of her adventure during the day, but although she had never before kept a secret from her mother she was unable to tell her this one. Something—perhaps the mere difference of age, and also a kind of shyness—kept her silent. She wished she knew a nice girl of her own age, or even a little younger, to whose enraptured ear she might have confided her story. They would have hugged each other during the recital, and she would have been able to enlarge upon a hundred trivialities of moustache and hair and eyes the wonder of which older minds can seldom appreciate.
Her mother said she did not feel at all well. She did not know what was the matter with her, but she was more tired than she could remember being for a long time. There was a dull aching in all her bones, a coldness in her limbs, and when she pressed her hair backwards it hurt her head; so she went to bed much earlier than was usual. But long after her regular time for sleep had passed Mary Makebelieve crouched on the floor before the few warm coals. She was looking into the redness, seeing visions of rapture, strange things which could not possibly be true; but these visions warmed her blood and lifted her heart on light and tremulous wings; there was a singing in her ears to which she could never be tired listening.
Mrs. Makebelieve felt much better the next morning after the extra sleep which she had. She still confessed to a slight pain in her scalp when she brushed her hair and was a little languid, but not so much as to call for complaint. She sat up in bed while her daughter prepared the breakfast and her tongue sped as rapidly as heretofore. She said she had a sort of feeling that her brother Patrick must come back from America some time, and she was sure that when he did return he would lose no time in finding out his relatives and sharing with them the wealth which he had amassed in that rich country. She had memories of his generosity even as a mere infant when he would always say "no" if only half a potato remained in the dish or a solitary slice of bread was on the platter. She delighted to talk of his good looks and high spirits and of the amazingly funny things he had said and done. There was always, of course, the chance that Patrick had got married and settled down in America, and, if so, that would account for so prolonged a silence. Wives always came between a man and his friends, and this woman would do all she could to prevent Patrick benefiting his own sister and her child. Even in Ireland there were people like that, and the more one heard of America the less one knew what to expect from the strange people who were native to that place. She had often thought she would like to go out there herself, and, indeed, if she had a little money she would think nothing of packing up her things to-morrow and setting out for the States. There were fine livings to be made there, and women were greatly in request, both as servants and wives. It was well known, too, that the Americans loved Irish people, and so there would be no difficulty at all in getting a start. The more she thought of Mrs. O'Connor the more favorably she pondered on emigration. She would say nothing against Mrs. O'Connor yet, but the fact remained that she had a wen on her cheek and buck teeth. Either of these afflictions taken separately were excusable, but together she fancied they betoken a bad, sour nature; but maybe the woman was to be pitied: she might be a nice person in herself, but, then, there was the matter of the soap, and she was very fond of giving unnecessary orders. However, time would show, and, clients being as scarce as they were, one could not quarrel with one's bread and butter.
The opening of a door and the stamping downstairs of heavy feet shot Mrs. Makebelieve from her bed and into her clothing with furious speed. Within five minutes she was dressed, and after kissing her daughter three times she fled down the stairs and away to her business.
Mary had obtained her mother's consent to do as she pleased with the piece of black velvet on the hem of her Sunday skirt, so she passed some time in ripping this off and cleaning it. It would not come as fresh as she desired, and there were some parts of it frayed and rubbed so that the velvet was nearly lost, but other portions were quite good, and by cutting out the worn parts and neatly joining the good pieces she at last evolved a quite passable sash. Having the sash ready she dressed herself to see how it looked, and was delighted. Then becoming dissatisfied with the severe method of doing her hair she manipulated it gently for a few minutes until a curl depended by both ears and two or three very tiny ones fluttered above her forehead. She put on her hat and stole out, walking very gently for fear any of the other people in the house would peep through their doors as she went by. Walk as gently as she could these bare, solid stairs rang loudly to each footfall, and so she ended in a rush and was out and away without daring to look if she was observed. She had a sort of guilty feeling as she walked, which she tried to allay by saying very definitely that she was not doing anything wrong. She said to herself with determined candor that she would walk up to the St. Stephen's Green Park and look at the ducks and the flower-beds and the eels, but when she reached the quays she blushed deeply, and turning towards the right went rapidly in the direction of the Phoenix Park. She told herself that she was not going in there, but would merely take a walk by the river, cross at Island Bridge, and go back on the opposite side of the Liffey to the Green. But when she saw the broad sunlit road gleaming through the big gates she thought she would go for a little way up there to look at the flowers behind the railings. As she went in a great figure came from behind the newspaper kiosk outside the gates and followed Mary up the road. When she paused to look at the flowers the great figure halted also, and when she went on again it followed. Mary walked past the Gough Statue and turned away into the fields and the trees, and here the figure lengthened its stride. In the middle of the field a big shadow bobbed past her shoulder, and she walked on holding her breath and watching the shadow growing by queer forward jerks. In a moment the dull beat of feet on grass banished all thought of the shadow, and then there came a cheerful voice in her ears, and the big policeman was standing by her side. For a few moments they were stationary, making salutation and excuse and explanation, and then they walked slowly on through the sunshine. Wherever there was a bush there were flowers on it. Every tree was thronged with birds that sang shrilly and sweetly in sudden thrills and clear sustained melodies, but in the open spaces the silence was more wonderful; there was no bird note to come between Mary and that deep voice, no shadow of a tree to swallow up their own two shadows; and the sunlight was so mildly warm, the air was so sweet and pure, and the little wind that hushed by from the mountains was a tender and a peaceful wind.
After that day Mary Makebelieve met her new friend frequently. Somehow, wherever she went, he was not far away; he seemed to spring out of space—one moment she was alone watching the people passing and the hurrying cars and the thronged and splendid shop windows, and then a big voice was booming down to her and a big form was pacing deliberately by her side. Twice he took her into a restaurant and gave her lunch. She had never been in a restaurant before, and it seemed to her like a place in fairyland. The semi-darkness of the retired rooms faintly colored by tiny electric lights, the beautifully clean tables and the strange foods, the neatly dressed waitresses with quick, deft movements and gravely attentive faces—these things thrilled her. She noticed that the girls in the restaurant, in spite of their gravity and industry, observed both herself and the big man with the minutest inspection, and she felt that they all envied her the attentions of so superb a companion. In the street also she found that many people looked at them, but, listening to his constant and easy speech, she could not give these people the attention they deserved.
When they did not go to the Park they sought the most reserved streets or walked out to the confines of the town and up by the River Dodder. There are exquisitely beautiful places along the side of the Dodder: shy little harbors and backwaters, and now and then a miniature waterfall or a broad placid reach upon which the sun beats down like silver. Along the river bank the grass grows rank and wildly luxurious, and at this season, warmed by the sun, it was a splendid place to sit. She thought she could sit there forever watching the shining river and listening to the great voice by her side.
He told her many things about himself and about his comrades—those equally huge men. She could see them walking with slow vigor through their barrack-yard, falling in for exercise or gymnastics or for school. She wondered what they were taught, and who had sufficient impertinence to teach giants, and were they ever slapped for not knowing their lessons? He told her of his daily work, the hours when he was on and off duty, the hours when he rose in the morning and when he went to bed. He told her of night duty, and drew a picture of the blank deserted streets which thrilled and frightened her ... the tense darkness, and how through the silence the sound of a footstep was magnified a thousandfold, ringing down the desolate pathways away and away to the smallest shrill distinctness, and she saw also the alleys and lane-ways hooded in blackness, and the one or two human fragments who drifted aimless and frantic along the lonely streets, striving to walk easily for fear of their own thundering footsteps, cowering in the vastness of the city, dwarfed and shivering beside the gaunt houses; the thousands upon thousands of black houses, each deadly silent, each seeming to wait and listen for the morning, and each teeming with men and women who slept in peace because he was walking up and down outside, flashing his lantern on shop windows and feeling doors to see if they were by any chance open. Now and again a step from a great distance would tap-tap-tap, a far-off delicacy of sound, and either die away down echoing side streets or come clanking on to where he stood, growing louder and clearer and more resonant, ringing again and again in doubled and trebled echoes; while he, standing far back in a doorway, watched to see who was abroad at the dead of night—and then that person went away on his strange errand, his footsteps tramping down immense distances, till the last echo and the last faint tremble of his feet eddied into the stillness. Now and again a cat dodged gingerly along a railing, or a strayed dog slunk fearfully down the pathway, nosing everywhere in and out of the lamplight, silent and hungry and desperately eager. He told her stories also, wonderful tales of great fights and cunning tricks, of men and women whose whole lives were tricks, of people who did not know how to live except by theft and violence; people who were born by stealth, who ate by subterfuge, drank by dodges, got married in antics and slid into death by strange, subterranean passages. He told her the story of the Two Hungry Men, and of The Sailor Who Had Been Robbed, and a funny tale about the Barber Who Had Two Mothers. He also told her the stories of The Eight Tinkers, and of the Old Women Who Steal Fish at Nighttime, and the story of The Man He Let Off, and he told her a terrible story of how he fought five men in a little room, and he showed her a great livid scar hidden by his cap, and the marks in his neck where he had been stabbed with a jagged bottle, and his wrist which an Italian mad-man had thrust through and through with a dagger.
But though he was always talking he was not always talking of himself. Through his conversation there ran a succession of queries—tiny slender questions which ran out of his stories and into her life. Questions so skillful and natural and spontaneous that only a girl could discover the curiosity which prompted them. He wanted her name, her address, her mother's name, her father's name; had she other relatives, did she go to work yet, what was her religion, was it a long time since she left school, and what was her mother's business? To all of these Mary Makebelieve answered with glad candor. She saw each question coming, and the personal curiosity lying behind it she divined and was glad of. She would have loved to ask him personal and intimate questions about his parents, his brothers and sisters, and what he said when he said his prayers, and had he walked with other girls, and, if so, what had he said to them, and what did he really and truly think of her? Her curiosity on all these points was abundant and eager, but she did not dare to even hint a question.
One of the queries often touched upon by him she eluded—she shrank from it with something like terror—it was, "What was her mother's business?" She could not bear to say that her mother was a charwoman. It did not seem fitting. She suddenly hated and was ashamed of this occupation. It took on an aspect of incredible baseness. It seemed to be the meanest employment wherein any one could be engaged; and so when the question, conveyed in a variety of ways, had to be answered it was answered with reservations—Mary Makebelieve told him a lie. She said her mother was a dressmaker.
One night when Mrs. Makebelieve came home she was very low-spirited indeed. She complained once more of a headache and of a languor which she could not account for. She said it gave her all the trouble in the world to lift a bucket. It was not exactly that she could not lift a bucket, but that she could scarcely close her mind down to the fact that a bucket had to be lifted. Some spring of willingness seemed to be temporarily absent. To close her two hands on a floor-cloth and twist it into a spiral in order to wring it thoroughly was a thing which she found herself imagining she could do if she liked, but had not the least wish to do. These duties, even when she was engaged in them, had a curious quality of remoteness. The bucket into which her hand had been plunged a moment before seemed somehow incredibly distant. To lift the soap lying beside the bucket one would require an arm of more than human reach, and having washed, or rather dabbed, at a square of flooring, it was a matter of grave concern how to reach the unwashed part just beyond without moving herself. This languor alarmed her. The pain in her head, while it was severe, did not really matter. Every one had pains and aches, sores and sprains, but this unknown weariness and disinclination for the very slightest exertion gave her a fright.
Mary tempted her to come out and watch the people going into the Gayety Theater. She said a certain actor was playing whom all the women of Dublin make pilgrimages, even from distant places, to look at; and by going at once they might be in time to see him arriving in a motor car at the stage door, when they could have a good look at him getting out of the car and going into the theater. At these tidings Mrs. Makebelieve roused for a moment from her strange apathy. Since tea-time she had sat (not as usual upright and gesticulating, but humped up and flaccid) staring at a blob of condensed milk on the outside of the tin. She said she thought she would go out and see the great actor, although what all the women saw in him to go mad about she did not know, but in another moment she settled back to her humped-up position and restored her gaze to the condensed milk tin. With a little trouble Mary got her to bed, where, after being hugged for one moment, she went swiftly and soundly to sleep.
Mary was troubled because of her mother's illness, but, as it is always difficult to believe in the serious illness of another person until death has demonstrated its gravity, she soon dismissed the matter from her mind. This was the more easily done because her mind was teeming with impressions and pictures and scraps of dialogue.
As her mother was sleeping peacefully, Mary put on her hat and went out. She wanted, in her then state of mind, to walk in the solitude which can only be found in crowded places, and also she wanted some kind of distraction. Her days had lately been so filled with adventure that the placid immobility of the top back room was not only irksome, but maddening, and her mother's hasty and troubled breathing came between her and her thoughts. The poor furniture of the room was hideous to her eyes, the uncarpeted floor and bleak, stained walls dulled her.
She went out, and in a few moments was part of the crowd which passes and repasses nightly from the Rotunda up the broad pathways of Sackville Street, across O'Connell Bridge, up Westmoreland Street, past Trinity College, and on through the brilliant lights of Grafton Street to the Fusiliers' Arch at the entrance to St. Stephen's Green Park. Here from half-past seven o'clock in the evening youthful Dublin marches in joyous procession. Sometimes bevies of young girls dance by, each a giggle incarnate. A little distance behind these a troop of young men follow stealthily and critically. They will be acquainted and more or less happily paired before the Bridge is reached. But generally the movement is in couples. Appointments, dating from the previous night, have filled the streets with happy and careless boys and girls—they are not exactly courting, they are enjoying the excitement of fresh acquaintance; old conversation is here poured into new bottles, old jokes have the freshness of infancy, every one is animated, and polite to no one but his partner; the people they meet and pass and those who overtake and pass them are all subjects for their wit and scorn, while they, in turn, furnish a moment's amusement and conversation to each succeeding couple. Constantly there are stoppages when very high-bred introductions result in a redistribution of the youngsters. As they move apart the words "To-morrow night," or "Thursday," or "Friday," are called laughingly back, showing that the late partner is not to be lost sight of utterly; and then the procession begins anew.