Dubliners by James Joyce
The Boarding House

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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[1819]     THE BOARDING HOUSE
[1820]     
[1821]     MRS. MOONEY was a butcher's daughter. She was a woman who
[1822]     was quite able to keep things to herself: a determined woman. She
[1823]     had married her father's foreman and opened a butcher's shop near
[1824]     Spring Gardens. But as soon as his father-in-law was dead Mr.
[1825]     Mooney began to go to the devil. He drank, plundered the till, ran
[1826]     headlong into debt. It was no use making him take the pledge: he
[1827]     was sure to break out again a few days after. By fighting his wife
[1828]     in the presence of customers and by buying bad meat he ruined his
[1829]     business. One night he went for his wife with the cleaver and she
[1830]     had to sleep a neighbour's house.
[1831]     
[1832]     After that they lived apart. She went to the priest and got a
[1833]     separation from him with care of the children. She would give him
[1834]     neither money nor food nor house-room; and so he was obliged to
[1835]     enlist himself as a sheriff's man. He was a shabby stooped little
[1836]     drunkard with a white face and a white moustache white eyebrows,
[1837]     pencilled above his little eyes, which were veined and raw; and all
[1838]     day long he sat in the bailiff's room, waiting to be put on a job.
[1839]     Mrs. Mooney, who had taken what remained of her money out of
[1840]     the butcher business and set up a boarding house in Hardwicke
[1841]     Street, was a big imposing woman. Her house had a floating
[1842]     population made up of tourists from Liverpool and the Isle of Man
[1843]     and, occasionally, artistes from the music halls. Its resident
[1844]     population was made up of clerks from the city. She governed the
[1845]     house cunningly and firmly, knew when to give credit, when to be
[1846]     stern and when to let things pass. All the resident young men spoke
[1847]     of her as The Madam.
[1848]     
[1849]     
[1850]     Mrs. Mooney's young men paid fifteen shillings a week for board
[1851]     and lodgings (beer or stout at dinner excluded). They shared in
[1852]     common tastes and occupations and for this reason they were very
[1853]     chummy with one another. They discussed with one another the
[1854]     chances of favourites and outsiders. Jack Mooney, the Madam's
[1855]     son, who was clerk to a commission agent in Fleet Street, had the
[1856]     reputation of being a hard case. He was fond of using soldiers'
[1857]     obscenities: usually he came home in the small hours. When he
[1858]     met his friends he had always a good one to tell them and he was
[1859]     always sure to be on to a good thing-that is to say, a likely horse or
[1860]     a likely artiste. He was also handy with the mits and sang comic
[1861]     songs. On Sunday nights there would often be a reunion in Mrs.
[1862]     Mooney's front drawing-room. The music-hall artistes would
[1863]     oblige; and Sheridan played waltzes and polkas and vamped
[1864]     accompaniments. Polly Mooney, the Madam's daughter, would
[1865]     also sing. She sang:
[1866]     
[1867]                I'm a ... naughty girl.
[1868]                  You needn't sham:
[1869]                  You know I am.
[1870]     
[1871]     Polly was a slim girl of nineteen; she had light soft hair and a
[1872]     small full mouth. Her eyes, which were grey with a shade of green
[1873]     through them, had a habit of glancing upwards when she spoke
[1874]     with anyone, which made her look like a little perverse madonna.
[1875]     Mrs. Mooney had first sent her daughter to be a typist in a
[1876]     corn-factor's office but, as a disreputable sheriff's man used to
[1877]     come every other day to the office, asking to be allowed to say a
[1878]     word to his daughter, she had taken her daughter home again and
[1879]     set her to do housework. As Polly was very lively the intention was
[1880]     to give her the run of the young men. Besides young men like to
[1881]     feel that there is a young woman not very far away. Polly, of
[1882]     course, flirted with the young men but Mrs. Mooney, who was a
[1883]     shrewd judge, knew that the young men were only passing the time
[1884]     away: none of them meant business. Things went on so for a long
[1885]     time and Mrs. Mooney began to think of sending Polly back to
[1886]     typewriting when she noticed that something was going on
[1887]     between Polly and one of the young men. She watched the pair and
[1888]     kept her own counsel.
[1889]     
[1890]     Polly knew that she was being watched, but still her mother's
[1891]     persistent silence could not be misunderstood. There had been no
[1892]     open complicity between mother and daughter, no open
[1893]     understanding but, though people in the house began to talk of the
[1894]     affair, still Mrs. Mooney did not intervene. Polly began to grow a
[1895]     little strange in her manner and the young man was evidently
[1896]     perturbed. At last, when she judged it to be the right moment, Mrs.
[1897]     Mooney intervened. She dealt with moral problems as a cleaver
[1898]     deals with meat: and in this case she had made up her mind.
[1899]     
[1900]     It was a bright Sunday morning of early summer, promising heat,
[1901]     but with a fresh breeze blowing. All the windows of the boarding
[1902]     house were open and the lace curtains ballooned gently towards
[1903]     the street beneath the raised sashes. The belfry of George's Church
[1904]     sent out constant peals and worshippers, singly or in groups,
[1905]     traversed the little circus before the church, revealing their purpose
[1906]     by their self-contained demeanour no less than by the little
[1907]     volumes in their gloved hands. Breakfast was over in the boarding
[1908]     house and the table of the breakfast-room was covered with plates
[1909]     on which lay yellow streaks of eggs with morsels of bacon-fat and
[1910]     bacon-rind. Mrs. Mooney sat in the straw arm-chair and watched
[1911]     the servant Mary remove the breakfast things. She mad Mary
[1912]     collect the crusts and pieces of broken bread to help to make
[1913]     Tuesday's bread- pudding. When the table was cleared, the broken
[1914]     bread collected, the sugar and butter safe under lock and key, she
[1915]     began to reconstruct the interview which she had had the night
[1916]     before with Polly. Things were as she had suspected: she had been
[1917]     frank in her questions and Polly had been frank in her answers.
[1918]     Both had been somewhat awkward, of course. She had been made
[1919]     awkward by her not wishing to receive the news in too cavalier a
[1920]     fashion or to seem to have connived and Polly had been made
[1921]     awkward not merely because allusions of that kind always made
[1922]     her awkward but also because she did not wish it to be thought that
[1923]     in her wise innocence she had divined the intention behind her
[1924]     mother's tolerance.
[1925]     
[1926]     Mrs. Mooney glanced instinctively at the little gilt clock on the
[1927]     mantelpiece as soon as she had become aware through her revery
[1928]     that the bells of George's Church had stopped ringing. It was
[1929]     seventeen minutes past eleven: she would have lots of time to have
[1930]     the matter out with Mr. Doran and then catch short twelve at
[1931]     Marlborough Street. She was sure she would win. To begin with
[1932]     she had all the weight of social opinion on her side: she was an
[1933]     outraged mother. She had allowed him to live beneath her roof,
[1934]     assuming that he was a man of honour and he had simply abused
[1935]     her hospitality. He was thirty-four or thirty-five years of age, so
[1936]     that youth could not be pleaded as his excuse; nor could ignorance
[1937]     be his excuse since he was a man who had seen something of the
[1938]     world. He had simply taken advantage of Polly's youth and
[1939]     inexperience: that was evident. The question was: What reparation
[1940]     would he make?
[1941]     
[1942]     There must be reparation made in such case. It is all very well for
[1943]     the man: he can go his ways as if nothing had happened, having
[1944]     had his moment of pleasure, but the girl has to bear the brunt.
[1945]     Some mothers would be content to patch up such an affair for a
[1946]     sum of money; she had known cases of it. But she would not do so.
[1947]     For her only one reparation could make up for the loss of her
[1948]     daughter's honour: marriage.
[1949]     
[1950]     She counted all her cards again before sending Mary up to Doran's
[1951]     room to say that she wished to speak with him. She felt sure she
[1952]     would win. He was a serious young man, not rakish or loud-voiced
[1953]     like the others. If it had been Mr. Sheridan or Mr. Meade or
[1954]     Bantam Lyons her task would have been much harder. She did not
[1955]     think he would face publicity. All the lodgers in the house knew
[1956]     something of the affair; details had been invented by some.
[1957]     Besides, he had been employed for thirteen years in a great
[1958]     Catholic wine-merchant's office and publicity would mean for
[1959]     him, perhaps, the loss of his job. Whereas if he agreed all might be
[1960]     well. She knew he had a good screw for one thing and she
[1961]     suspected he had a bit of stuff put by.
[1962]     
[1963]     Nearly the half-hour! She stood up and surveyed herself in the
[1964]     pier-glass. The decisive expression of her great florid face satisfied
[1965]     her and she thought of some mothers she knew who could not get
[1966]     their daughters off their hands.
[1967]     
[1968]     Mr. Doran was very anxious indeed this Sunday morning. He had
[1969]     made two attempts to shave but his hand had been so unsteady that
[1970]     he had been obliged to desist. Three days' reddish beard fringed his
[1971]     jaws and every two or three minutes a mist gathered on his glasses
[1972]     so that he had to take them off and polish them with his
[1973]     pocket-handkerchief. The recollection of his confession of the
[1974]     night before was a cause of acute pain to him; the priest had drawn
[1975]     out every ridiculous detail of the affair and in the end had so
[1976]     magnified his sin that he was almost thankful at being afforded a
[1977]     loophole of reparation. The harm was done. What could he do now
[1978]     but marry her or run away? He could not brazen it out. The affair
[1979]     would be sure to be talked of and his employer would be certain to
[1980]     hear of it. Dublin is such a small city: everyone knows everyone
[1981]     else's business. He felt his heart leap warmly in his throat as he
[1982]     heard in his excited imagination old Mr. Leonard calling out in his
[1983]     rasping voice: "Send Mr. Doran here, please."
[1984]     
[1985]     All his long years of service gone for nothing! All his industry and
[1986]     diligence thrown away! As a young man he had sown his wild oats,
[1987]     of course; he had boasted of his free-thinking and denied the
[1988]     existence of God to his companions in public- houses. But that was
[1989]     all passed and done with... nearly. He still bought a copy of
[1990]     Reynolds's Newspaper every week but he attended to his religious
[1991]     duties and for nine-tenths of the year lived a regular life. He had
[1992]     money enough to settle down on; it was not that. But the family
[1993]     would look down on her. First of all there was her disreputable
[1994]     father and then her mother's boarding house was beginning to get a
[1995]     certain fame. He had a notion that he was being had. He could
[1996]     imagine his friends talking of the affair and laughing. She was a
[1997]     little vulgar; some times she said "I seen" and "If I had've known."
[1998]     But what would grammar matter if he really loved her? He could
[1999]     not make up his mind whether to like her or despise her for what
[2000]     she had done. Of course he had done it too. His instinct urged him
[2001]     to remain free, not to marry. Once you are married you are done
[2002]     for, it said.
[2003]     
[2004]     While he was sitting helplessly on the side of the bed in shirt and
[2005]     trousers she tapped lightly at his door and entered. She told him
[2006]     all, that she had made a clean breast of it to her mother and that
[2007]     her mother would speak with him that morning. She cried and
[2008]     threw her arms round his neck, saying:
[2009]     
[2010]     "O Bob! Bob! What am I to do? What am I to do at all?"
[2011]     
[2012]     She would put an end to herself, she said.
[2013]     
[2014]     He comforted her feebly, telling her not to cry, that it would be all
[2015]     right, never fear. He felt against his shirt the agitation of her
[2016]     bosom.
[2017]     
[2018]     It was not altogether his fault that it had happened. He
[2019]     remembered well, with the curious patient memory of the celibate,
[2020]     the first casual caresses her dress, her breath, her fingers had given
[2021]     him. Then late one night as he was undressing for she had tapped
[2022]     at his door, timidly. She wanted to relight her candle at his for hers
[2023]     had been blown out by a gust. It was her bath night. She wore a
[2024]     loose open combing- jacket of printed flannel. Her white instep
[2025]     shone in the opening of her furry slippers and the blood glowed
[2026]     warmly behind her perfumed skin. From her hands and wrists too
[2027]     as she lit and steadied her candle a faint perfume arose.
[2028]     
[2029]     On nights when he came in very late it was she who warmed up his
[2030]     dinner. He scarcely knew what he was eating feeling her beside
[2031]     him alone, at night, in the sleeping house. And her thoughtfulness!
[2032]     If the night was anyway cold or wet or windy there was sure to be
[2033]     a little tumbler of punch ready for him. Perhaps they could be
[2034]     happy together....
[2035]     
[2036]     They used to go upstairs together on tiptoe, each with a candle,
[2037]     and on the third landing exchange reluctant goodnights. They used
[2038]     to kiss. He remembered well her eyes, the touch of her hand and
[2039]     his delirium....
[2040]     
[2041]     But delirium passes. He echoed her phrase, applying it to himself:
[2042]     "What am I to do?" The instinct of the celibate warned him to hold
[2043]     back. But the sin was there; even his sense of honour told him that
[2044]     reparation must be made for such a sin.
[2045]     
[2046]     While he was sitting with her on the side of the bed Mary came to
[2047]     the door and said that the missus wanted to see him in the parlour.
[2048]     He stood up to put on his coat and waistcoat, more helpless than
[2049]     ever. When he was dressed he went over to her to comfort her. It
[2050]     would be all right, never fear. He left her crying on the bed and
[2051]     moaning softly: "O my God!"
[2052]     
[2053]     Going down the stairs his glasses became so dimmed with
[2054]     moisture that he had to take them off and polish them. He longed
[2055]     to ascend through the roof and fly away to another country where
[2056]     he would never hear again of his trouble, and yet a force pushed
[2057]     him downstairs step by step. The implacable faces of his employer
[2058]     and of the Madam stared upon his discomfiture. On the last flight
[2059]     of stairs he passed Jack Mooney who was coming up from the
[2060]     pantry nursing two bottles of Bass. They saluted coldly; and the
[2061]     lover's eyes rested for a second or two on a thick bulldog face and
[2062]     a pair of thick short arms. When he reached the foot of the
[2063]     staircase he glanced up and saw Jack regarding him from the door
[2064]     of the return-room.
[2065]     
[2066]     Suddenly he remembered the night when one of the musichall
[2067]     artistes, a little blond Londoner, had made a rather free allusion to
[2068]     Polly. The reunion had been almost broken up on account of Jack's
[2069]     violence. Everyone tried to quiet him. The music-hall artiste, a
[2070]     little paler than usual, kept smiling and saying that there was no
[2071]     harm meant: but Jack kept shouting at him that if any fellow tried
[2072]     that sort of a game on with his sister he'd bloody well put his teeth
[2073]     down his throat, so he would.
[2074]     
[2075]     Polly sat for a little time on the side of the bed, crying. Then she
[2076]     dried her eyes and went over to the looking-glass. She dipped the
[2077]     end of the towel in the water-jug and refreshed her eyes with the
[2078]     cool water. She looked at herself in profile and readjusted a
[2079]     hairpin above her ear. Then she went back to the bed again and sat
[2080]     at the foot. She regarded the pillows for a long time and the sight
[2081]     of them awakened in her mind secret, amiable memories. She
[2082]     rested the nape of her neck against the cool iron bed-rail and fell
[2083]     into a reverie. There was no longer any perturbation visible on her
[2084]     face.
[2085]     
[2086]     She waited on patiently, almost cheerfully, without alarm. her
[2087]     memories gradually giving place to hopes and visions of the
[2088]     future. Her hopes and visions were so intricate that she no longer
[2089]     saw the white pillows on which her gaze was fixed or remembered
[2090]     that she was waiting for anything.
[2091]     
[2092]     At last she heard her mother calling. She started to her feet and ran
[2093]     to the banisters.
[2094]     
[2095]     "Polly! Polly!"
[2096]     
[2097]     "Yes, mamma?"
[2098]     
[2099]     "Come down, dear. Mr. Doran wants to speak to you."
[2100]     
[2101]     Then she remembered what she had been waiting for.
[2102]