Dubliners by James Joyce
Clay

Dublin The Sisters
An Encounter
Araby
Eveline
After the Race
Two Gallants
The Boarding House
A Little Cloud
Counterparts
Clay
A Painful Case
Ivy Day in the Committee Room
A Mother
Grace
The Dead

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[3180]     CLAY
[3181]     
[3182]     THE matron had given her leave to go out as soon as the women's
[3183]     tea was over and Maria looked forward to her evening out. The
[3184]     kitchen was spick and span: the cook said you could see yourself
[3185]     in the big copper boilers. The fire was nice and bright and on one
[3186]     of the side-tables were four very big barmbracks. These
[3187]     barmbracks seemed uncut; but if you went closer you would see
[3188]     that they had been cut into long thick even slices and were ready to
[3189]     be handed round at tea. Maria had cut them herself.
[3190]     
[3191]     Maria was a very, very small person indeed but she had a very long
[3192]     nose and a very long chin. She talked a little through her nose,
[3193]     always soothingly: "Yes, my dear," and "No, my dear." She was
[3194]     always sent for when the women quarrelled Over their tubs and
[3195]     always succeeded in making peace. One day the matron had said to
[3196]     her:
[3197]     
[3198]     "Maria, you are a veritable peace-maker!"
[3199]     
[3200]     And the sub-matron and two of the Board ladies had heard the
[3201]     compliment. And Ginger Mooney was always saying what she
[3202]     wouldn't do to the dummy who had charge of the irons if it wasn't
[3203]     for Maria. Everyone was so fond of Maria.
[3204]     
[3205]     The women would have their tea at six o'clock and she would be
[3206]     able to get away before seven. From Ballsbridge to the Pillar,
[3207]     twenty minutes; from the Pillar to Drumcondra, twenty minutes;
[3208]     and twenty minutes to buy the things. She would be there before
[3209]     eight. She took out her purse with the silver clasps and read again
[3210]     the words A Present from Belfast. She was very fond of that purse
[3211]     because Joe had brought it to her five years before when he and
[3212]     Alphy had gone to Belfast on a Whit-Monday trip. In the purse
[3213]     were two half-crowns and some coppers. She would have five
[3214]     shillings clear after paying tram fare. What a nice evening they
[3215]     would have, all the children singing! Only she hoped that Joe
[3216]     wouldn't come in drunk. He was so different when he took any
[3217]     drink.
[3218]     
[3219]     Often he had wanted her to go and live with them;-but she would
[3220]     have felt herself in the way (though Joe's wife was ever so nice
[3221]     with her) and she had become accustomed to the life of the
[3222]     laundry. Joe was a good fellow. She had nursed him and Alphy
[3223]     too; and Joe used often say:
[3224]     
[3225]     "Mamma is mamma but Maria is my proper mother."
[3226]     
[3227]     After the break-up at home the boys had got her that position in the
[3228]     Dublin by Lamplight laundry, and she liked it. She used to have
[3229]     such a bad opinion of Protestants but now she thought they were
[3230]     very nice people, a little quiet and serious, but still very nice
[3231]     people to live with. Then she had her plants in the conservatory
[3232]     and she liked looking after them. She had lovely ferns and
[3233]     wax-plants and, whenever anyone came to visit her, she always
[3234]     gave the visitor one or two slips from her conservatory. There was
[3235]     one thing she didn't like and that was the tracts on the walks; but
[3236]     the matron was such a nice person to deal with, so genteel.
[3237]     
[3238]     When the cook told her everything was ready she went into the
[3239]     women's room and began to pull the big bell. In a few minutes the
[3240]     women began to come in by twos and threes, wiping their
[3241]     steaming hands in their petticoats and pulling down the sleeves of
[3242]     their blouses over their red steaming arms. They settled down
[3243]     before their huge mugs which the cook and the dummy filled up
[3244]     with hot tea, already mixed with milk and sugar in huge tin cans.
[3245]     Maria superintended the distribution of the barmbrack and saw
[3246]     that every woman got her four slices. There was a great deal of
[3247]     laughing and joking during the meal. Lizzie Fleming said Maria
[3248]     was sure to get the ring and, though Fleming had said that for so
[3249]     many Hallow Eves, Maria had to laugh and say she didn't want any
[3250]     ring or man either; and when she laughed her grey-green eyes
[3251]     sparkled with disappointed shyness and the tip of her nose nearly
[3252]     met the tip of her chin. Then Ginger Mooney lifted her mug of tea
[3253]     and proposed Maria's health while all the other women clattered
[3254]     with their mugs on the table, and said she was sorry she hadn't a
[3255]     sup of porter to drink it in. And Maria laughed again till the tip of
[3256]     her nose nearly met the tip of her chin and till her minute body
[3257]     nearly shook itself asunder because she knew that Mooney meant
[3258]     well though, of course, she had the notions of a common woman.
[3259]     
[3260]     But wasn't Maria glad when the women had finished their tea and
[3261]     the cook and the dummy had begun to clear away the tea- things!
[3262]     She went into her little bedroom and, remembering that the next
[3263]     morning was a mass morning, changed the hand of the alarm from
[3264]     seven to six. Then she took off her working skirt and her
[3265]     house-boots and laid her best skirt out on the bed and her tiny
[3266]     dress-boots beside the foot of the bed. She changed her blouse too
[3267]     and, as she stood before the mirror, she thought of how she used to
[3268]     dress for mass on Sunday morning when she was a young girl; and
[3269]     she looked with quaint affection at the diminutive body which she
[3270]     had so often adorned, In spite of its years she found it a nice tidy
[3271]     little body.
[3272]     
[3273]     When she got outside the streets were shining with rain and she
[3274]     was glad of her old brown waterproof. The tram was full and she
[3275]     had to sit on the little stool at the end of the car, facing all the
[3276]     people, with her toes barely touching the floor. She arranged in her
[3277]     mind all she was going to do and thought how much better it was
[3278]     to be independent and to have your own money in your pocket.
[3279]     She hoped they would have a nice evening. She was sure they
[3280]     would but she could not help thinking what a pity it was Alphy and
[3281]     Joe were not speaking. They were always falling out now but when
[3282]     they were boys together they used to be the best of friends: but
[3283]     such was life.
[3284]     
[3285]     She got out of her tram at the Pillar and ferreted her way quickly
[3286]     among the crowds. She went into Downes's cake-shop but the shop
[3287]     was so full of people that it was a long time before she could get
[3288]     herself attended to. She bought a dozen of mixed penny cakes, and
[3289]     at last came out of the shop laden with a big bag. Then she thought
[3290]     what else would she buy: she wanted to buy something really nice.
[3291]     They would be sure to have plenty of apples and nuts. It was hard
[3292]     to know what to buy and all she could think of was cake. She
[3293]     decided to buy some plumcake but Downes's plumcake had not
[3294]     enough almond icing on top of it so she went over to a shop in
[3295]     Henry Street. Here she was a long time in suiting herself and the
[3296]     stylish young lady behind the counter, who was evidently a little
[3297]     annoyed by her, asked her was it wedding-cake she wanted to buy.
[3298]     That made Maria blush and smile at the young lady; but the young
[3299]     lady took it all very seriously and finally cut a thick slice of
[3300]     plumcake, parcelled it up and said:
[3301]     
[3302]     "Two-and-four, please."
[3303]     
[3304]     She thought she would have to stand in the Drumcondra tram
[3305]     because none of the young men seemed to notice her but an elderly
[3306]     gentleman made room for her. He was a stout gentleman and he
[3307]     wore a brown hard hat; he had a square red face and a greyish
[3308]     moustache. Maria thought he was a colonel-looking gentleman and
[3309]     she reflected how much more polite he was than the young men
[3310]     who simply stared straight before them. The gentleman began to
[3311]     chat with her about Hallow Eve and the rainy weather. He
[3312]     supposed the bag was full of good things for the little ones and
[3313]     said it was only right that the youngsters should enjoy themselves
[3314]     while they were young. Maria agreed with him and favoured him
[3315]     with demure nods and hems. He was very nice with her, and when
[3316]     she was getting out at the Canal Bridge she thanked him and
[3317]     bowed, and he bowed to her and raised his hat and smiled
[3318]     agreeably, and while she was going up along the terrace, bending
[3319]     her tiny head under the rain, she thought how easy it was to know a
[3320]     gentleman even when he has a drop taken.
[3321]     
[3322]     Everybody said: "0, here's Maria!" when she came to Joe's house.
[3323]     Joe was there, having come home from business, and all the
[3324]     children had their Sunday dresses on. There were two big girls in
[3325]     from next door and games were going on. Maria gave the bag of
[3326]     cakes to the eldest boy, Alphy, to divide and Mrs. Donnelly said it
[3327]     was too good of her to bring such a big bag of cakes and made all
[3328]     the children say:
[3329]     
[3330]     "Thanks, Maria."
[3331]     
[3332]     But Maria said she had brought something special for papa and
[3333]     mamma, something they would be sure to like, and she began to
[3334]     look for her plumcake. She tried in Downes's bag and then in the
[3335]     pockets of her waterproof and then on the hallstand but nowhere
[3336]     could she find it. Then she asked all the children had any of them
[3337]     eaten it--by mistake, of course--but the children all said no and
[3338]     looked as if they did not like to eat cakes if they were to be
[3339]     accused of stealing. Everybody had a solution for the mystery and
[3340]     Mrs. Donnelly said it was plain that Maria had left it behind her in
[3341]     the tram. Maria, remembering how confused the gentleman with
[3342]     the greyish moustache had made her, coloured with shame and
[3343]     vexation and disappointment. At the thought of the failure of her
[3344]     little surprise and of the two and fourpence she had thrown away
[3345]     for nothing she nearly cried outright.
[3346]     
[3347]     But Joe said it didn't matter and made her sit down by the fire. He
[3348]     was very nice with her. He told her all that went on in his office,
[3349]     repeating for her a smart answer which he had made to the
[3350]     manager. Maria did not understand why Joe laughed so much over
[3351]     the answer he had made but she said that the manager must have
[3352]     been a very overbearing person to deal with. Joe said he wasn't so
[3353]     bad when you knew how to take him, that he was a decent sort so
[3354]     long as you didn't rub him the wrong way. Mrs. Donnelly played
[3355]     the piano for the children and they danced and sang. Then the two
[3356]     next-door girls handed round the nuts. Nobody could find the
[3357]     nutcrackers and Joe was nearly getting cross over it and asked how
[3358]     did they expect Maria to crack nuts without a nutcracker. But
[3359]     Maria said she didn't like nuts and that they weren't to bother about
[3360]     her. Then Joe asked would she take a bottle of stout and Mrs.
[3361]     Donnelly said there was port wine too in the house if she would
[3362]     prefer that. Maria said she would rather they didn't ask her to take
[3363]     anything: but Joe insisted.
[3364]     
[3365]     So Maria let him have his way and they sat by the fire talking over
[3366]     old times and Maria thought she would put in a good word for
[3367]     Alphy. But Joe cried that God might strike him stone dead if ever
[3368]     he spoke a word to his brother again and Maria said she was sorry
[3369]     she had mentioned the matter. Mrs. Donnelly told her husband it
[3370]     was a great shame for him to speak that way of his own flesh and
[3371]     blood but Joe said that Alphy was no brother of his and there was
[3372]     nearly being a row on the head of it. But Joe said he would not
[3373]     lose his temper on account of the night it was and asked his wife to
[3374]     open some more stout. The two next-door girls had arranged some
[3375]     Hallow Eve games and soon everything was merry again. Maria
[3376]     was delighted to see the children so merry and Joe and his wife in
[3377]     such good spirits. The next-door girls put some saucers on the
[3378]     table and then led the children up to the table, blindfold. One got
[3379]     the prayer-book and the other three got the water; and when one of
[3380]     the next-door girls got the ring Mrs. Donnelly shook her finger at
[3381]     the blushing girl as much as to say: 0, I know all about it! They
[3382]     insisted then on blindfolding Maria and leading her up to the table
[3383]     to see what she would get; and, while they were putting on the
[3384]     bandage, Maria laughed and laughed again till the tip of her nose
[3385]     nearly met the tip of her chin.
[3386]     
[3387]     They led her up to the table amid laughing and joking and she put
[3388]     her hand out in the air as she was told to do. She moved her hand
[3389]     about here and there in the air and descended on one of the
[3390]     saucers. She felt a soft wet substance with her fingers and was
[3391]     surprised that nobody spoke or took off her bandage. There was a
[3392]     pause for a few seconds; and then a great deal of scuffling and
[3393]     whispering. Somebody said something about the garden, and at
[3394]     last Mrs. Donnelly said something very cross to one of the
[3395]     next-door girls and told her to throw it out at once: that was no
[3396]     play. Maria understood that it was wrong that time and so she had
[3397]     to do it over again: and this time she got the prayer-book.
[3398]     
[3399]     After that Mrs. Donnelly played Miss McCloud's Reel for the
[3400]     children and Joe made Maria take a glass of wine. Soon they were
[3401]     all quite merry again and Mrs. Donnelly said Maria would enter a
[3402]     convent before the year was out because she had got the
[3403]     prayer-book. Maria had never seen Joe so nice to her as he was
[3404]     that night, so full of pleasant talk and reminiscences. She said they
[3405]     were all very good to her.
[3406]     
[3407]     At last the children grew tired and sleepy and Joe asked Maria
[3408]     would she not sing some little song before she went, one of the old
[3409]     songs. Mrs. Donnelly said "Do, please, Maria!" and so Maria had
[3410]     to get up and stand beside the piano. Mrs. Donnelly bade the
[3411]     children be quiet and listen to Maria's song. Then she played the
[3412]     prelude and said "Now, Maria!" and Maria, blushing very much
[3413]     began to sing in a tiny quavering voice. She sang I Dreamt that I
[3414]     Dwelt, and when she came to the second verse she sang again:
[3415]     
[3416]         
[3417]                 I dreamt that I dwelt in marble halls
[3418]                   With vassals and serfs at my side,
[3419]                 And of all who assembled within those walls
[3420]                   That I was the hope and the pride.
[3421]         
[3422]                 I had riches too great to count; could boast
[3423]                   Of a high ancestral name,
[3424]                 But I also dreamt, which pleased me most,
[3425]                   That you loved me still the same.
[3426]     
[3427]     
[3428]     But no one tried to show her her mistake; and when she had ended
[3429]     her song Joe was very much moved. He said that there was no time
[3430]     like the long ago and no music for him like poor old Balfe,
[3431]     whatever other people might say; and his eyes filled up so much
[3432]     with tears that he could not find what he was looking for and in the
[3433]     end he had to ask his wife to tell him where the corkscrew was.
[3434]