After the Race
The Boarding House
A Little Cloud
A Painful Case
Ivy Day in the Committee Room
THERE was no hope for him this time: it was the third stroke. Night
after night I had passed the house (it was vacation time) and studied
the lighted square of window: and night after night I had found it
lighted in the same way, faintly and evenly. If he was dead, I thought,
I would see the reflection of candles on the darkened blind for I knew
that two candles must be set at the head of a corpse. He had often said
to me: "I am not long for this world," and I had thought his words idle.
Now I knew they were true. Every night as I gazed up at the window
I said softly to myself the word paralysis. It had always sounded
strangely in my ears, like the word gnomon in the Euclid and the word
simony in the Catechism. But now it sounded to me like the name of some
maleficent and sinful being. It filled me with fear, and yet I longed to
be nearer to it and to look upon its deadly work.
Old Cotter was sitting at the fire, smoking, when I came downstairs
to supper. While my aunt was ladling out my stirabout he said, as if
returning to some former remark of his:
"No, I wouldn't say he was exactly... but there was something queer...
there was something uncanny about him. I'll tell you my opinion...."
He began to puff at his pipe, no doubt arranging his opinion in his
mind. Tiresome old fool! When we knew him first he used to be rather
interesting, talking of faints and worms; but I soon grew tired of him
and his endless stories about the distillery.
"I have my own theory about it," he said. "I think it was one of
those... peculiar cases.... But it's hard to say...."
He began to puff again at his pipe without giving us his theory. My
uncle saw me staring and said to me:
"Well, so your old friend is gone, you'll be sorry to hear."
"Who?" said I.
"Is he dead?"
"Mr. Cotter here has just told us. He was passing by the house."
I knew that I was under observation so I continued eating as if the news
had not interested me. My uncle explained to old Cotter.
"The youngster and he were great friends. The old chap taught him a
great deal, mind you; and they say he had a great wish for him."
"God have mercy on his soul," said my aunt piously.
Old Cotter looked at me for a while. I felt that his little beady black
eyes were examining me but I would not satisfy him by looking up from my
plate. He returned to his pipe and finally spat rudely into the grate.
"I wouldn't like children of mine," he said, "to have too much to say to
a man like that."
"How do you mean, Mr. Cotter?" asked my aunt.
"What I mean is," said old Cotter, "it's bad for children. My idea is:
let a young lad run about and play with young lads of his own age and
not be... Am I right, Jack?"
"That's my principle, too," said my uncle. "Let him learn to box his
corner. That's what I'm always saying to that Rosicrucian there: take
exercise. Why, when I was a nipper every morning of my life I had a cold
bath, winter and summer. And that's what stands to me now. Education
is all very fine and large.... Mr. Cotter might take a pick of that leg
mutton," he added to my aunt.
"No, no, not for me," said old Cotter.
My aunt brought the dish from the safe and put it on the table.
"But why do you think it's not good for children, Mr. Cotter?" she
"It's bad for children," said old Cotter, "because their minds are so
impressionable. When children see things like that, you know, it has an
I crammed my mouth with stirabout for fear I might give utterance to my
anger. Tiresome old red-nosed imbecile!
It was late when I fell asleep. Though I was angry with old Cotter for
alluding to me as a child, I puzzled my head to extract meaning from his
unfinished sentences. In the dark of my room I imagined that I saw again
the heavy grey face of the paralytic. I drew the blankets over my head
and tried to think of Christmas. But the grey face still followed me. It
murmured; and I understood that it desired to confess something. I felt
my soul receding into some pleasant and vicious region; and there again
I found it waiting for me. It began to confess to me in a murmuring
voice and I wondered why it smiled continually and why the lips were so
moist with spittle. But then I remembered that it had died of paralysis
and I felt that I too was smiling feebly as if to absolve the simoniac
of his sin.
The next morning after breakfast I went down to look at the little house
in Great Britain Street. It was an unassuming shop, registered under
the vague name of Drapery. The drapery consisted mainly of children's
bootees and umbrellas; and on ordinary days a notice used to hang in the
window, saying: Umbrellas Re-covered. No notice was visible now for
the shutters were up. A crape bouquet was tied to the doork-nocker with
ribbon. Two poor women and a telegram boy were reading the card pinned
on the crape. I also approached and read:
July 1st, 1895
The Rev. James Flynn (formerly of
S. Catherine's Church, Meath Street),
aged sixty-five years.
R. I. P.
The reading of the card persuaded me that he was dead and I was
disturbed to find myself at check. Had he not been dead I would have
gone into the little dark room behind the shop to find him sitting in
his arm-chair by the fire, nearly smothered in his great-coat. Perhaps
my aunt would have given me a packet of High Toast for him and this
present would have roused him from his stupefied doze. It was always I
who emptied the packet into his black snuff-box for his hands trembled
too much to allow him to do this without spilling half the snuff about
the floor. Even as he raised his large trembling hand to his nose little
clouds of smoke dribbled through his fingers over the front of his coat.
It may have been these constant showers of snuff which gave his ancient
priestly garments their green faded look for the red handkerchief,
blackened, as it always was, with the snuff-stains of a week, with which
he tried to brush away the fallen grains, was quite inefficacious.
I wished to go in and look at him but I had not the courage to knock. I
walked away slowly along the sunny side of the street, reading all the
theatrical advertisements in the shopwindows as I went. I found it
strange that neither I nor the day seemed in a mourning mood and I felt
even annoyed at discovering in myself a sensation of freedom as if I had
been freed from something by his death. I wondered at this for, as my
uncle had said the night before, he had taught me a great deal. He had
studied in the Irish college in Rome and he had taught me to pronounce
Latin properly. He had told me stories about the catacombs and about
Napoleon Bonaparte, and he had explained to me the meaning of the
different ceremonies of the Mass and of the different vestments worn
by the priest. Sometimes he had amused himself by putting difficult
questions to me, asking me what one should do in certain circumstances
or whether such and such sins were mortal or venial or only
imperfections. His questions showed me how complex and mysterious were
certain institutions of the Church which I had always regarded as
the simplest acts. The duties of the priest towards the Eucharist and
towards the secrecy of the confessional seemed so grave to me that I
wondered how anybody had ever found in himself the courage to undertake
them; and I was not surprised when he told me that the fathers of the