Dubliners by James Joyce
An Encounter

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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[366]      AN ENCOUNTER
[367]      
[368]      IT WAS Joe Dillon who introduced the Wild West to us. He had a
[369]      little library made up of old numbers of The Union Jack , Pluck
[370]      and The Halfpenny Marvel . Every evening after school we met in
[371]      his back garden and arranged Indian battles. He and his fat young
[372]      brother Leo, the idler, held the loft of the stable while we tried to
[373]      carry it by storm; or we fought a pitched battle on the grass. But,
[374]      however well we fought, we never won siege or battle and all our
[375]      bouts ended with Joe Dillon's war dance of victory. His parents
[376]      went to eight- o'clock mass every morning in Gardiner Street and
[377]      the peaceful odour of Mrs. Dillon was prevalent in the hall of the
[378]      house. But he played too fiercely for us who were younger and
[379]      more timid. He looked like some kind of an Indian when he
[380]      capered round the garden, an old tea-cosy on his head, beating a
[381]      tin with his fist and yelling:
[382]      
[383]      "Ya! yaka, yaka, yaka!"
[384]      
[385]      Everyone was incredulous when it was reported that he had a
[386]      vocation for the priesthood. Nevertheless it was true.
[387]      
[388]      A spirit of unruliness diffused itself among us and, under its
[389]      influence, differences of culture and constitution were waived. We
[390]      banded ourselves together, some boldly, some in jest and some
[391]      almost in fear: and of the number of these latter, the reluctant
[392]      Indians who were afraid to seem studious or lacking in robustness,
[393]      I was one. The adventures related in the literature of the Wild
[394]      West were remote from my nature but, at least, they opened doors
[395]      of escape. I liked better some American detective stories which
[396]      were traversed from time to time by unkempt fierce and beautiful
[397]      girls. Though there was nothing wrong in these stories and though
[398]      their intention was sometimes literary they were circulated secretly
[399]      at school. One day when Father Butler was hearing the four pages
[400]      of Roman History clumsy Leo Dillon was discovered with a copy
[401]      of The Halfpenny Marvel .
[402]      
[403]      "This page or this page? This page Now, Dillon, up! 'Hardly had
[404]      the day' ... Go on! What day? 'Hardly had the day dawned' ... Have
[405]      you studied it? What have you there in your pocket?"
[406]      
[407]      Everyone's heart palpitated as Leo Dillon handed up the paper and
[408]      everyone assumed an innocent face. Father Butler turned over the
[409]      pages, frowning.
[410]      
[411]      "What is this rubbish?" he said. "The Apache Chief! Is this what
[412]      you read instead of studying your Roman History? Let me not find
[413]      any more of this wretched stuff in this college. The man who wrote
[414]      it, I suppose, was some wretched fellow who writes these things
[415]      for a drink. I'm surprised at boys like you, educated, reading such
[416]      stuff. I could understand it if you were ... National School boys.
[417]      Now, Dillon, I advise you strongly, get at your work or..."
[418]      
[419]      This rebuke during the sober hours of school paled much of the
[420]      glory of the Wild West for me and the confused puffy face of Leo
[421]      Dillon awakened one of my consciences. But when the restraining
[422]      influence of the school was at a distance I began to hunger again
[423]      for wild sensations, for the escape which those chronicles of
[424]      disorder alone seemed to offer me. The mimic warfare of the
[425]      evening became at last as wearisome to me as the routine of school
[426]      in the morning because I wanted real adventures to happen to
[427]      myself. But real adventures, I reflected, do not happen to people
[428]      who remain at home: they must be sought abroad.
[429]      
[430]      The summer holidays were near at hand when I made up my mind
[431]      to break out of the weariness of schoollife for one day at least.
[432]      With Leo Dillon and a boy named Mahony I planned a day's
[433]      miching. Each of us saved up sixpence. We were to meet at ten in
[434]      the morning on the Canal Bridge. Mahony's big sister was to write
[435]      an excuse for him and Leo Dillon was to tell his brother to say he
[436]      was sick. We arranged to go along the Wharf Road until we came
[437]      to the ships, then to cross in the ferryboat and walk out to see the
[438]      Pigeon House. Leo Dillon was afraid we might meet Father Butler
[439]      or someone out of the college; but Mahony asked, very sensibly,
[440]      what would Father Butler be doing out at the Pigeon House. We
[441]      were reassured: and I brought the first stage of the plot to an end
[442]      by collecting sixpence from the other two, at the same time
[443]      showing them my own sixpence. When we were making the last
[444]      arrangements on the eve we were all vaguely excited. We shook
[445]      hands, laughing, and Mahony said:
[446]      
[447]      "Till tomorrow, mates!"
[448]      
[449]      That night I slept badly. In the morning I was firstcomer to the
[450]      bridge as I lived nearest. I hid my books in the long grass near the
[451]      ashpit at the end of the garden where nobody ever came and
[452]      hurried along the canal bank. It was a mild sunny morning in the
[453]      first week of June. I sat up on the coping of the bridge admiring
[454]      my frail canvas shoes which I had diligently pipeclayed overnight
[455]      and watching the docile horses pulling a tramload of business
[456]      people up the hill. All the branches of the tall trees which lined the
[457]      mall were gay with little light green leaves and the sunlight slanted
[458]      through them on to the water. The granite stone of the bridge was
[459]      beginning to be warm and I began to pat it with my hands in time
[460]      to an air in my head. I was very happy.
[461]      
[462]      When I had been sitting there for five or ten minutes I saw
[463]      Mahony's grey suit approaching. He came up the hill, smiling, and
[464]      clambered up beside me on the bridge. While we were waiting he
[465]      brought out the catapult which bulged from his inner pocket and
[466]      explained some improvements which he had made in it. I asked
[467]      him why he had brought it and he told me he had brought it to
[468]      have some gas with the birds. Mahony used slang freely, and spoke
[469]      of Father Butler as Old Bunser. We waited on for a quarter of an
[470]      hour more but still there was no sign of Leo Dillon. Mahony, at
[471]      last, jumped down and said:
[472]      
[473]      "Come along. I knew Fatty'd funk it."
[474]      
[475]      "And his sixpence...?" I said.
[476]      
[477]      "That's forfeit," said Mahony. "And so much the better for us--a
[478]      bob and a tanner instead of a bob."
[479]      
[480]      We walked along the North Strand Road till we came to the Vitriol
[481]      Works and then turned to the right along the Wharf Road. Mahony
[482]      began to play the Indian as soon as we were out of public sight. He
[483]      chased a crowd of ragged girls, brandishing his unloaded catapult
[484]      and, when two ragged boys began, out of chivalry, to fling stones
[485]      at us, he proposed that we should charge them. I objected that the
[486]      boys were too small and so we walked on, the ragged troop
[487]      screaming after us: "Swaddlers! Swaddlers!" thinking that we were
[488]      Protestants because Mahony, who was dark-complexioned, wore
[489]      the silver badge of a cricket club in his cap. When we came to the
[490]      Smoothing Iron we arranged a siege; but it was a failure because
[491]      you must have at least three. We revenged ourselves on Leo Dillon
[492]      by saying what a funk he was and guessing how many he would
[493]      get at three o'clock from Mr. Ryan.
[494]      
[495]      We came then near the river. We spent a long time walking about
[496]      the noisy streets flanked by high stone walls, watching the working
[497]      of cranes and engines and often being shouted at for our
[498]      immobility by the drivers of groaning carts. It was noon when we
[499]      reached the quays and as all the labourers seemed to be eating
[500]      their lunches, we bought two big currant buns and sat down to eat
[501]      them on some metal piping beside the river. We pleased ourselves
[502]      with the spectacle of Dublin's commerce--the barges signalled
[503]      from far away by their curls of woolly smoke, the brown fishing
[504]      fleet beyond Ringsend, the big white sailingvessel which was
[505]      being discharged on the opposite quay. Mahony said it would be
[506]      right skit to run away to sea on one of those big ships and even I,
[507]      looking at the high masts, saw, or imagined, the geography which
[508]      had been scantily dosed to me at school gradually taking substance
[509]      under my eyes. School and home seemed to recede from us and
[510]      their influences upon us seemed to wane.
[511]      
[512]      We crossed the Liffey in the ferryboat, paying our toll to be
[513]      transported in the company of two labourers and a little Jew with a
[514]      bag. We were serious to the point of solemnity, but once during the
[515]      short voyage our eyes met and we laughed. When we landed we
[516]      watched the discharging of the graceful threemaster which we had
[517]      observed from the other quay. Some bystander said that she was a
[518]      Norwegian vessel. I went to the stern and tried to decipher the
[519]      legend upon it but, failing to do so, I came back and examined the
[520]      foreign sailors to see had any of them green eyes for I had some
[521]      confused notion.... The sailors' eyes were blue and grey and even
[522]      black. The only sailor whose eyes could have been called green
[523]      was a tall man who amused the crowd on the quay by calling out
[524]      cheerfully every time the planks fell:
[525]      
[526]      "All right! All right!"
[527]      
[528]      When we were tired of this sight we wandered slowly into
[529]      Ringsend. The day had grown sultry, and in the windows of the
[530]      grocers' shops musty biscuits lay bleaching. We bought some
[531]      biscuits and chocolate which we ate sedulously as we wandered
[532]      through the squalid streets where the families of the fishermen
[533]      live. We could find no dairy and so we went into a huckster's shop
[534]      and bought a bottle of raspberry lemonade each. Refreshed by this,
[535]      Mahony chased a cat down a lane, but the cat escaped into a wide
[536]      field. We both felt rather tired and when we reached the field we
[537]      made at once for a sloping bank over the ridge of which we could
[538]      see the Dodder.
[539]      
[540]      It was too late and we were too tired to carry out our project of
[541]      visiting the Pigeon House. We had to be home before four o'clock
[542]      lest our adventure should be discovered. Mahony looked
[543]      regretfully at his catapult and I had to suggest going home by train
[544]      before he regained any cheerfulness. The sun went in behind some
[545]      clouds and left us to our jaded thoughts and the crumbs of our
[546]      provisions.
[547]      
[548]      There was nobody but ourselves in the field. When we had lain on
[549]      the bank for some time without speaking I saw a man approaching
[550]      from the far end of the field. I watched him lazily as I chewed one
[551]      of those green stems on which girls tell fortunes. He came along
[552]      by the bank slowly. He walked with one hand upon his hip and in
[553]      the other hand he held a stick with which he tapped the turf lightly.
[554]      He was shabbily dressed in a suit of greenish-black and wore what
[555]      we used to call a jerry hat with a high crown. He seemed to be
[556]      fairly old for his moustache was ashen-grey. When he passed at
[557]      our feet he glanced up at us quickly and then continued his way.
[558]      We followed him with our eyes and saw that when he had gone on
[559]      for perhaps fifty paces he turned about and began to retrace his
[560]      steps. He walked towards us very slowly, always tapping the
[561]      ground with his stick, so slowly that I thought he was looking for
[562]      something in the grass.
[563]      
[564]      He stopped when he came level with us and bade us goodday. We
[565]      answered him and he sat down beside us on the slope slowly and
[566]      with great care. He began to talk of the weather, saying that it
[567]      would be a very hot summer and adding that the seasons had
[568]      changed gready since he was a boy--a long time ago. He said that
[569]      the happiest time of one's life was undoubtedly one's schoolboy
[570]      days and that he would give anything to be young again. While he
[571]      expressed these sentiments which bored us a little we kept silent.
[572]      Then he began to talk of school and of books. He asked us whether
[573]      we had read the poetry of Thomas Moore or the works of Sir
[574]      Walter Scott and Lord Lytton. I pretended that I had read every
[575]      book he mentioned so that in the end he said:
[576]      
[577]      "Ah, I can see you are a bookworm like myself. Now," he added,
[578]      pointing to Mahony who was regarding us with open eyes, "he is
[579]      different; he goes in for games."
[580]      
[581]      He said he had all Sir Walter Scott's works and all Lord Lytton's
[582]      works at home and never tired of reading them. "Of course," he
[583]      said, "there were some of Lord Lytton's works which boys couldn't
[584]      read." Mahony asked why couldn't boys read them--a question
[585]      which agitated and pained me because I was afraid the man would
[586]      think I was as stupid as Mahony. The man, however, only smiled. I
[587]      saw that he had great gaps in his mouth between his yellow teeth.
[588]      Then he asked us which of us had the most sweethearts. Mahony
[589]      mentioned lightly that he had three totties. The man asked me how
[590]      many I had. I answered that I had none. He did not believe me and
[591]      said he was sure I must have one. I was silent.
[592]      
[593]      "Tell us," said Mahony pertly to the man, "how many have you
[594]      yourself?"
[595]      
[596]      The man smiled as before and said that when he was our age he
[597]      had lots of sweethearts.
[598]      
[599]      "Every boy," he said, "has a little sweetheart."
[600]      
[601]      His attitude on this point struck me as strangely liberal in a man of
[602]      his age. In my heart I thought that what he said about boys and
[603]      sweethearts was reasonable. But I disliked the words in his mouth
[604]      and I wondered why he shivered once or twice as if he feared
[605]      something or felt a sudden chill. As he proceeded I noticed that his
[606]      accent was good. He began to speak to us about girls, saying what
[607]      nice soft hair they had and how soft their hands were and how all
[608]      girls were not so good as they seemed to be if one only knew.
[609]      There was nothing he liked, he said, so much as looking at a nice
[610]      young girl, at her nice white hands and her beautiful soft hair. He
[611]      gave me the impression that he was repeating something which he
[612]      had learned by heart or that, magnetised by some words of his own
[613]      speech, his mind was slowly circling round and round in the same
[614]      orbit. At times he spoke as if he were simply alluding to some fact
[615]      that everybody knew, and at times he lowered his voice and spoke
[616]      mysteriously as if he were telling us something secret which he did
[617]      not wish others to overhear. He repeated his phrases over and over
[618]      again, varying them and surrounding them with his monotonous
[619]      voice. I continued to gaze towards the foot of the slope, listening
[620]      to him.
[621]      
[622]      After a long while his monologue paused. He stood up slowly,
[623]      saying that he had to leave us for a minute or so, a few minutes,
[624]      and, without changing the direction of my gaze, I saw him walking
[625]      slowly away from us towards the near end of the field. We
[626]      remained silent when he had gone. After a silence of a few
[627]      minutes I heard Mahony exclaim:
[628]      
[629]      "I say! Look what he's doing!"
[630]      
[631]      As I neither answered nor raised my eyes Mahony exclaimed
[632]      again:
[633]      
[634]      "I say... He's a queer old josser!"
[635]      
[636]      "In case he asks us for our names," I said "let you be Murphy and I'll
[637]      be Smith."
[638]      
[639]      We said nothing further to each other. I was still considering
[640]      whether I would go away or not when the man came back and sat
[641]      down beside us again. Hardly had he sat down when Mahony,
[642]      catching sight of the cat which had escaped him, sprang up and
[643]      pursued her across the field. The man and I watched the chase. The
[644]      cat escaped once more and Mahony began to throw stones at the
[645]      wall she had escaladed. Desisting from this, he began to wander
[646]      about the far end of the field, aimlessly.
[647]      
[648]      After an interval the man spoke to me. He said that my friend was
[649]      a very rough boy and asked did he get whipped often at school. I
[650]      was going to reply indignantly that we were not National School
[651]      boys to be whipped, as he called it; but I remained silent. He began
[652]      to speak on the subject of chastising boys. His mind, as if
[653]      magnetised again by his speech, seemed to circle slowly round and
[654]      round its new centre. He said that when boys were that kind they
[655]      ought to be whipped and well whipped. When a boy was rough and
[656]      unruly there was nothing would do him any good but a good sound
[657]      whipping. A slap on the hand or a box on the ear was no good:
[658]      what he wanted was to get a nice warm whipping. I was surprised
[659]      at this sentiment and involuntarily glanced up at his face. As I did
[660]      so I met the gaze of a pair of bottle-green eyes peering at me from
[661]      under a twitching forehead. I turned my eyes away again.
[662]      
[663]      The man continued his monologue. He seemed to have forgotten
[664]      his recent liberalism. He said that if ever he found a boy talking to
[665]      girls or having a girl for a sweetheart he would whip him and whip
[666]      him; and that would teach him not to be talking to girls. And if a
[667]      boy had a girl for a sweetheart and told lies about it then he would
[668]      give him such a whipping as no boy ever got in this world. He said
[669]      that there was nothing in this world he would like so well as that.
[670]      He described to me how he would whip such a boy as if he were
[671]      unfolding some elaborate mystery. He would love that, he said,
[672]      better than anything in this world; and his voice, as he led me
[673]      monotonously through the mystery, grew almost affectionate and
[674]      seemed to plead with me that I should understand him.
[675]      
[676]      I waited till his monologue paused again. Then I stood up abruptly.
[677]      Lest I should betray my agitation I delayed a few moments
[678]      pretending to fix my shoe properly and then, saying that I was
[679]      obliged to go, I bade him good-day. I went up the slope calmly but
[680]      my heart was beating quickly with fear that he would seize me by
[681]      the ankles. When I reached the top of the slope I turned round and,
[682]      without looking at him, called loudly across the field:
[683]      
[684]      "Murphy!"
[685]      
[686]      My voice had an accent of forced bravery in it and I was ashamed
[687]      of my paltry stratagem. I had to call the name again before
[688]      Mahony saw me and hallooed in answer. How my heart beat as he
[689]      came running across the field to me! He ran as if to bring me aid.
[690]      And I was penitent; for in my heart I had always despised him a
[691]      little.
[692]