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Dubliners - Clay

1. The Sisters

2. An Encounter

3. Araby

4. Eveline

5. After the Race

6. Two Gallants

7. The Boarding House

8. A Little Cloud

9. Counterparts

10. Clay

11. A Painful Case

12. Ivy Day in the Committee Room

13. A Mother

14. Grace

15. The Dead

16. The Dead - continue


THE matron had given her leave to go out as soon as the women's
tea was over and Maria looked forward to her evening out. The
kitchen was spick and span: the cook said you could see yourself
in the big copper boilers. The fire was nice and bright and on one
of the side-tables were four very big barmbracks. These
barmbracks seemed uncut; but if you went closer you would see
that they had been cut into long thick even slices and were ready to
be handed round at tea. Maria had cut them herself.

Maria was a very, very small person indeed but she had a very long
nose and a very long chin. She talked a little through her nose,
always soothingly: "Yes, my dear," and "No, my dear." She was
always sent for when the women quarrelled Over their tubs and
always succeeded in making peace. One day the matron had said to

"Maria, you are a veritable peace-maker!"

And the sub-matron and two of the Board ladies had heard the
compliment. And Ginger Mooney was always saying what she
wouldn't do to the dummy who had charge of the irons if it wasn't
for Maria. Everyone was so fond of Maria.

The women would have their tea at six o'clock and she would be
able to get away before seven. From Ballsbridge to the Pillar,
twenty minutes; from the Pillar to Drumcondra, twenty minutes;
and twenty minutes to buy the things. She would be there before
eight. She took out her purse with the silver clasps and read again
the words A Present from Belfast. She was very fond of that purse
because Joe had brought it to her five years before when he and
Alphy had gone to Belfast on a Whit-Monday trip. In the purse
were two half-crowns and some coppers. She would have five
shillings clear after paying tram fare. What a nice evening they
would have, all the children singing! Only she hoped that Joe
wouldn't come in drunk. He was so different when he took any

Often he had wanted her to go and live with them;-but she would
have felt herself in the way (though Joe's wife was ever so nice
with her) and she had become accustomed to the life of the
laundry. Joe was a good fellow. She had nursed him and Alphy
too; and Joe used often say:

"Mamma is mamma but Maria is my proper mother."

After the break-up at home the boys had got her that position in the
Dublin by Lamplight laundry, and she liked it. She used to have
such a bad opinion of Protestants but now she thought they were
very nice people, a little quiet and serious, but still very nice
people to live with. Then she had her plants in the conservatory
and she liked looking after them. She had lovely ferns and
wax-plants and, whenever anyone came to visit her, she always
gave the visitor one or two slips from her conservatory. There was
one thing she didn't like and that was the tracts on the walks; but
the matron was such a nice person to deal with, so genteel.

When the cook told her everything was ready she went into the
women's room and began to pull the big bell. In a few minutes the
women began to come in by twos and threes, wiping their
steaming hands in their petticoats and pulling down the sleeves of
their blouses over their red steaming arms. They settled down
before their huge mugs which the cook and the dummy filled up
with hot tea, already mixed with milk and sugar in huge tin cans.
Maria superintended the distribution of the barmbrack and saw
that every woman got her four slices. There was a great deal of
laughing and joking during the meal. Lizzie Fleming said Maria
was sure to get the ring and, though Fleming had said that for so
many Hallow Eves, Maria had to laugh and say she didn't want any
ring or man either; and when she laughed her grey-green eyes
sparkled with disappointed shyness and the tip of her nose nearly
met the tip of her chin. Then Ginger Mooney lifted her mug of tea
and proposed Maria's health while all the other women clattered
with their mugs on the table, and said she was sorry she hadn't a
sup of porter to drink it in. And Maria laughed again till the tip of
her nose nearly met the tip of her chin and till her minute body
nearly shook itself asunder because she knew that Mooney meant
well though, of course, she had the notions of a common woman.

But wasn't Maria glad when the women had finished their tea and
the cook and the dummy had begun to clear away the tea- things!
She went into her little bedroom and, remembering that the next
morning was a mass morning, changed the hand of the alarm from
seven to six. Then she took off her working skirt and her
house-boots and laid her best skirt out on the bed and her tiny
dress-boots beside the foot of the bed. She changed her blouse too
and, as she stood before the mirror, she thought of how she used to
dress for mass on Sunday morning when she was a young girl; and
she looked with quaint affection at the diminutive body which she
had so often adorned, In spite of its years she found it a nice tidy
little body.

When she got outside the streets were shining with rain and she
was glad of her old brown waterproof. The tram was full and she
had to sit on the little stool at the end of the car, facing all the
people, with her toes barely touching the floor. She arranged in her
mind all she was going to do and thought how much better it was
to be independent and to have your own money in your pocket.
She hoped they would have a nice evening. She was sure they
would but she could not help thinking what a pity it was Alphy and
Joe were not speaking. They were always falling out now but when
they were boys together they used to be the best of friends: but
such was life.

She got out of her tram at the Pillar and ferreted her way quickly
among the crowds. She went into Downes's cake-shop but the shop
was so full of people that it was a long time before she could get
herself attended to. She bought a dozen of mixed penny cakes, and
at last came out of the shop laden with a big bag. Then she thought
what else would she buy: she wanted to buy something really nice.
They would be sure to have plenty of apples and nuts. It was hard
to know what to buy and all she could think of was cake. She
decided to buy some plumcake but Downes's plumcake had not
enough almond icing on top of it so she went over to a shop in
Henry Street. Here she was a long time in suiting herself and the
stylish young lady behind the counter, who was evidently a little
annoyed by her, asked her was it wedding-cake she wanted to buy.
That made Maria blush and smile at the young lady; but the young
lady took it all very seriously and finally cut a thick slice of
plumcake, parcelled it up and said:

"Two-and-four, please."

She thought she would have to stand in the Drumcondra tram
because none of the young men seemed to notice her but an elderly
gentleman made room for her. He was a stout gentleman and he
wore a brown hard hat; he had a square red face and a greyish
moustache. Maria thought he was a colonel-looking gentleman and
she reflected how much more polite he was than the young men
who simply stared straight before them. The gentleman began to
chat with her about Hallow Eve and the rainy weather. He
supposed the bag was full of good things for the little ones and
said it was only right that the youngsters should enjoy themselves
while they were young. Maria agreed with him and favoured him
with demure nods and hems. He was very nice with her, and when
she was getting out at the Canal Bridge she thanked him and
bowed, and he bowed to her and raised his hat and smiled
agreeably, and while she was going up along the terrace, bending
her tiny head under the rain, she thought how easy it was to know a
gentleman even when he has a drop taken.

Everybody said: "0, here's Maria!" when she came to Joe's house.
Joe was there, having come home from business, and all the
children had their Sunday dresses on. There were two big girls in
from next door and games were going on. Maria gave the bag of
cakes to the eldest boy, Alphy, to divide and Mrs. Donnelly said it
was too good of her to bring such a big bag of cakes and made all
the children say:

"Thanks, Maria."

But Maria said she had brought something special for papa and
mamma, something they would be sure to like, and she began to
look for her plumcake. She tried in Downes's bag and then in the
pockets of her waterproof and then on the hallstand but nowhere
could she find it. Then she asked all the children had any of them
eaten it--by mistake, of course--but the children all said no and
looked as if they did not like to eat cakes if they were to be
accused of stealing. Everybody had a solution for the mystery and
Mrs. Donnelly said it was plain that Maria had left it behind her in
the tram. Maria, remembering how confused the gentleman with
the greyish moustache had made her, coloured with shame and
vexation and disappointment. At the thought of the failure of her
little surprise and of the two and fourpence she had thrown away
for nothing she nearly cried outright.

But Joe said it didn't matter and made her sit down by the fire. He
was very nice with her. He told her all that went on in his office,
repeating for her a smart answer which he had made to the
manager. Maria did not understand why Joe laughed so much over
the answer he had made but she said that the manager must have
been a very overbearing person to deal with. Joe said he wasn't so
bad when you knew how to take him, that he was a decent sort so
long as you didn't rub him the wrong way. Mrs. Donnelly played
the piano for the children and they danced and sang. Then the two
next-door girls handed round the nuts. Nobody could find the
nutcrackers and Joe was nearly getting cross over it and asked how
did they expect Maria to crack nuts without a nutcracker. But
Maria said she didn't like nuts and that they weren't to bother about
her. Then Joe asked would she take a bottle of stout and Mrs.
Donnelly said there was port wine too in the house if she would
prefer that. Maria said she would rather they didn't ask her to take
anything: but Joe insisted.

So Maria let him have his way and they sat by the fire talking over
old times and Maria thought she would put in a good word for
Alphy. But Joe cried that God might strike him stone dead if ever
he spoke a word to his brother again and Maria said she was sorry
she had mentioned the matter. Mrs. Donnelly told her husband it
was a great shame for him to speak that way of his own flesh and
blood but Joe said that Alphy was no brother of his and there was
nearly being a row on the head of it. But Joe said he would not
lose his temper on account of the night it was and asked his wife to
open some more stout. The two next-door girls had arranged some
Hallow Eve games and soon everything was merry again. Maria
was delighted to see the children so merry and Joe and his wife in
such good spirits. The next-door girls put some saucers on the
table and then led the children up to the table, blindfold. One got
the prayer-book and the other three got the water; and when one of
the next-door girls got the ring Mrs. Donnelly shook her finger at
the blushing girl as much as to say: 0, I know all about it! They
insisted then on blindfolding Maria and leading her up to the table
to see what she would get; and, while they were putting on the
bandage, Maria laughed and laughed again till the tip of her nose
nearly met the tip of her chin.

They led her up to the table amid laughing and joking and she put
her hand out in the air as she was told to do. She moved her hand
about here and there in the air and descended on one of the
saucers. She felt a soft wet substance with her fingers and was
surprised that nobody spoke or took off her bandage. There was a
pause for a few seconds; and then a great deal of scuffling and
whispering. Somebody said something about the garden, and at
last Mrs. Donnelly said something very cross to one of the
next-door girls and told her to throw it out at once: that was no
play. Maria understood that it was wrong that time and so she had
to do it over again: and this time she got the prayer-book.

After that Mrs. Donnelly played Miss McCloud's Reel for the
children and Joe made Maria take a glass of wine. Soon they were
all quite merry again and Mrs. Donnelly said Maria would enter a
convent before the year was out because she had got the
prayer-book. Maria had never seen Joe so nice to her as he was
that night, so full of pleasant talk and reminiscences. She said they
were all very good to her.

At last the children grew tired and sleepy and Joe asked Maria
would she not sing some little song before she went, one of the old
songs. Mrs. Donnelly said "Do, please, Maria!" and so Maria had
to get up and stand beside the piano. Mrs. Donnelly bade the
children be quiet and listen to Maria's song. Then she played the
prelude and said "Now, Maria!" and Maria, blushing very much
began to sing in a tiny quavering voice. She sang I Dreamt that I
Dwelt, and when she came to the second verse she sang again:

I dreamt that I dwelt in marble halls
With vassals and serfs at my side,
And of all who assembled within those walls
That I was the hope and the pride.

I had riches too great to count; could boast
Of a high ancestral name,
But I also dreamt, which pleased me most,
That you loved me still the same.

But no one tried to show her her mistake; and when she had ended
her song Joe was very much moved. He said that there was no time
like the long ago and no music for him like poor old Balfe,
whatever other people might say; and his eyes filled up so much
with tears that he could not find what he was looking for and in the
end he had to ask his wife to tell him where the corkscrew was.

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