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Dubliners - A Painful Case

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


MR. JAMES DUFFY lived in Chapelizod because he wished to
live as far as possible from the city of which he was a citizen and
because he found all the other suburbs of Dublin mean, modern
and pretentious. He lived in an old sombre house and from his
windows he could look into the disused distillery or upwards along
the shallow river on which Dublin is built. The lofty walls of his
uncarpeted room were free from pictures. He had himself bought
every article of furniture in the room: a black iron bedstead, an
iron washstand, four cane chairs, a clothes- rack, a coal-scuttle, a
fender and irons and a square table on which lay a double desk. A
bookcase had been made in an alcove by means of shelves of
white wood. The bed was clothed with white bedclothes and a
black and scarlet rug covered the foot. A little hand-mirror hung
above the washstand and during the day a white-shaded lamp stood
as the sole ornament of the mantelpiece. The books on the white
wooden shelves were arranged from below upwards according to
bulk. A complete Wordsworth stood at one end of the lowest shelf
and a copy of the Maynooth Catechism, sewn into the cloth cover
of a notebook, stood at one end of the top shelf. Writing materials
were always on the desk. In the desk lay a manuscript translation
of Hauptmann's Michael Kramer, the stage directions of which
were written in purple ink, and a little sheaf of papers held
together by a brass pin. In these sheets a sentence was inscribed
from time to time and, in an ironical moment, the headline of an
advertisement for Bile Beans had been pasted on to the first sheet.
On lifting the lid of the desk a faint fragrance escaped--the
fragrance of new cedarwood pencils or of a bottle of gum or of an
overripe apple which might have been left there and forgotten.

Mr. Duffy abhorred anything which betokened physical or mental
disorder. A medival doctor would have called him saturnine. His
face, which carried the entire tale of his years, was of the brown
tint of Dublin streets. On his long and rather large head grew dry
black hair and a tawny moustache did not quite cover an
unamiable mouth. His cheekbones also gave his face a harsh
character; but there was no harshness in the eyes which, looking at
the world from under their tawny eyebrows, gave the impression of
a man ever alert to greet a redeeming instinct in others but often
disappointed. He lived at a little distance from his body, regarding
his own acts with doubtful side-glasses. He had an odd
autobiographical habit which led him to compose in his mind from
time to time a short sentence about himself containing a subject in
the third person and a predicate in the past tense. He never gave
alms to beggars and walked firmly, carrying a stout hazel.

He had been for many years cashier of a private bank in Baggot
Street. Every morning he came in from Chapelizod by tram. At
midday he went to Dan Burke's and took his lunch--a bottle of
lager beer and a small trayful of arrowroot biscuits. At four o'clock
he was set free. He dined in an eating-house in George's Street
where he felt himself safe from the society o Dublin's gilded youth
and where there was a certain plain honesty in the bill of fare. His
evenings were spent either before his landlady's piano or roaming
about the outskirts of the city. His liking for Mozart's music
brought him sometimes to an opera or a concert: these were the
only dissipations of his life.

He had neither companions nor friends, church nor creed. He lived
his spiritual life without any communion with others, visiting his
relatives at Christmas and escorting them to the cemetery when
they died. He performed these two social duties for old dignity's
sake but conceded nothing further to the conventions which
regulate the civic life. He allowed himself to think that in certain
circumstances he would rob his hank but, as these circumstances
never arose, his life rolled out evenly--an adventureless tale.

One evening he found himself sitting beside two ladies in the
Rotunda. The house, thinly peopled and silent, gave distressing
prophecy of failure. The lady who sat next him looked round at the
deserted house once or twice and then said:

"What a pity there is such a poor house tonight! It's so hard on
people to have to sing to empty benches."

He took the remark as an invitation to talk. He was surprised that
she seemed so little awkward. While they talked he tried to fix her
permanently in his memory. When he learned that the young girl
beside her was her daughter he judged her to be a year or so
younger than himself. Her face, which must have been handsome,
had remained intelligent. It was an oval face with strongly marked
features. The eyes were very dark blue and steady. Their gaze
began with a defiant note but was confused by what seemed a
deliberate swoon of the pupil into the iris, revealing for an instant
a temperament of great sensibility. The pupil reasserted itself
quickly, this half- disclosed nature fell again under the reign of
prudence, and her astrakhan jacket, moulding a bosom of a certain
fullness, struck the note of defiance more definitely.

He met her again a few weeks afterwards at a concert in Earlsfort
Terrace and seized the moments when her daughter's attention was
diverted to become intimate. She alluded once or twice to her
husband but her tone was not such as to make the allusion a
warning. Her name was Mrs. Sinico. Her husband's
great-great-grandfather had come from Leghorn. Her husband was
captain of a mercantile boat plying between Dublin and Holland;
and they had one child.

Meeting her a third time by accident he found courage to make an
appointment. She came. This was the first of many meetings; they
met always in the evening and chose the most quiet quarters for
their walks together. Mr. Duffy, however, had a distaste for
underhand ways and, finding that they were compelled to meet
stealthily, he forced her to ask him to her house. Captain Sinico
encouraged his visits, thinking that his daughter's hand was in
question. He had dismissed his wife so sincerely from his gallery
of pleasures that he did not suspect that anyone else would take an
interest in her. As the husband was often away and the daughter
out giving music lessons Mr. Duffy had many opportunities of
enjoying the lady's society. Neither he nor she had had any such
adventure before and neither was conscious of any incongruity.
Little by little he entangled his thoughts with hers. He lent her
books, provided her with ideas, shared his intellectual life with
her. She listened to all.

Sometimes in return for his theories she gave out some fact of her
own life. With almost maternal solicitude she urged him to let his
nature open to the full: she became his confessor. He told her that
for some time he had assisted at the meetings of an Irish Socialist
Party where he had felt himself a unique figure amidst a score of
sober workmen in a garret lit by an inefficient oil-lamp. When the
party had divided into three sections, each under its own leader
and in its own garret, he had discontinued his attendances. The
workmen's discussions, he said, were too timorous; the interest
they took in the question of wages was inordinate. He felt that they
were hard-featured realists and that they resented an exactitude
which was the produce of a leisure not within their reach. No
social revolution, he told her, would be likely to strike Dublin for
some centuries.

She asked him why did he not write out his thoughts. For what, he
asked her, with careful scorn. To compete with phrasemongers,
incapable of thinking consecutively for sixty seconds? To submit
himself to the criticisms of an obtuse middle class which entrusted
its morality to policemen and its fine arts to impresarios?

He went often to her little cottage outside Dublin; often they spent
their evenings alone. Little by little, as their thoughts entangled,
they spoke of subjects less remote. Her companionship was like a
warm soil about an exotic. Many times she allowed the dark to fall
upon them, refraining from lighting the lamp. The dark discreet
room, their isolation, the music that still vibrated in their ears
united them. This union exalted him, wore away the rough edges
of his character, emotionalised his mental life. Sometimes he
caught himself listening to the sound of his own voice. He thought
that in her eyes he would ascend to an angelical stature; and, as he
attached the fervent nature of his companion more and more
closely to him, he heard the strange impersonal voice which he
recognised as his own, insisting on the soul's incurable loneliness.
We cannot give ourselves, it said: we are our own. The end of
these discourses was that one night during which she had shown
every sign of unusual excitement, Mrs. Sinico caught up his hand
passionately and pressed it to her cheek.

Mr. Duffy was very much surprised. Her interpretation of his
words disillusioned him. He did not visit her for a week, then he
wrote to her asking her to meet him. As he did not wish their last
interview to be troubled by the influence of their ruined
confessional they meet in a little cakeshop near the Parkgate. It
was cold autumn weather but in spite of the cold they wandered up
and down the roads of the Park for nearly three hours. They agreed
to break off their intercourse: every bond, he said, is a bond to
sorrow. When they came out of the Park they walked in silence
towards the tram; but here she began to tremble so violently that,
fearing another collapse on her part, he bade her good-bye quickly
and left her. A few days later he received a parcel containing his
books and music.

Four years passed. Mr. Duffy returned to his even way of life. His
room still bore witness of the orderliness of his mind. Some new
pieces of music encumbered the music-stand in the lower room
and on his shelves stood two volumes by Nietzsche: Thus Spake
Zarathustra and The Gay Science. He wrote seldom in the sheaf of
papers which lay in his desk. One of his sentences, written two
months after his last interview with Mrs. Sinico, read: Love
between man and man is impossible because there must not be
sexual intercourse and friendship between man and woman is
impossible because there must be sexual intercourse. He kept away
from concerts lest he should meet her. His father died; the junior
partner of the bank retired. And still every morning he went into
the city by tram and every evening walked home from the city after
having dined moderately in George's Street and read the evening
paper for dessert.

One evening as he was about to put a morsel of corned beef and
cabbage into his mouth his hand stopped. His eyes fixed
themselves on a paragraph in the evening paper which he had
propped against the water-carafe. He replaced the morsel of food
on his plate and read the paragraph attentively. Then he drank a
glass of water, pushed his plate to one side, doubled the paper
down before him between his elbows and read the paragraph over
and over again. The cabbage began to deposit a cold white grease
on his plate. The girl came over to him to ask was his dinner not
properly cooked. He said it was very good and ate a few mouthfuls
of it with difficulty. Then he paid his bill and went out.

He walked along quickly through the November twilight, his stout
hazel stick striking the ground regularly, the fringe of the buff Mail
peeping out of a side-pocket of his tight reefer overcoat. On the
lonely road which leads from the Parkgate to Chapelizod he
slackened his pace. His stick struck the ground less emphatically
and his breath, issuing irregularly, almost with a sighing sound,
condensed in the wintry air. When he reached his house he went
up at once to his bedroom and, taking the paper from his pocket,
read the paragraph again by the failing light of the window. He
read it not aloud, but moving his lips as a priest does when he
reads the prayers Secreto. This was the paragraph:


Today at the City of Dublin Hospital the Deputy Coroner (in the
absence of Mr. Leverett) held an inquest on the body of Mrs.
Emily Sinico, aged forty-three years, who was killed at Sydney
Parade Station yesterday evening. The evidence showed that the
deceased lady, while attempting to cross the line, was knocked
down by the engine of the ten o'clock slow train from Kingstown,
thereby sustaining injuries of the head and right side which led to
her death.

James Lennon, driver of the engine, stated that he had been in the
employment of the railway company for fifteen years. On hearing
the guard's whistle he set the train in motion and a second or two
afterwards brought it to rest in response to loud cries. The train
was going slowly.

P. Dunne, railway porter, stated that as the train was about to start
he observed a woman attempting to cross the lines. He ran towards
her and shouted, but, before he could reach her, she was caught by
the buffer of the engine and fell to the ground.

A juror. "You saw the lady fall?"

Witness. "Yes."

Police Sergeant Croly deposed that when he arrived he found the
deceased lying on the platform apparently dead. He had the body
taken to the waiting-room pending the arrival of the ambulance.

Constable 57 corroborated.

Dr. Halpin, assistant house surgeon of the City of Dublin Hospital,
stated that the deceased had two lower ribs fractured and had
sustained severe contusions of the right shoulder. The right side of
the head had been injured in the fall. The injuries were not
sufficient to have caused death in a normal person. Death, in his
opinion, had been probably due to shock and sudden failure of the
heart's action.

Mr. H. B. Patterson Finlay, on behalf of the railway company,
expressed his deep regret at the accident. The company had always
taken every precaution to prevent people crossing the lines except
by the bridges, both by placing notices in every station and by the
use of patent spring gates at level crossings. The deceased had
been in the habit of crossing the lines late at night from platform to
platform and, in view of certain other circumstances of the case,
he did not think the railway officials were to blame.

Captain Sinico, of Leoville, Sydney Parade, husband of the
deceased, also gave evidence. He stated that the deceased was his
wife. He was not in Dublin at the time of the accident as he had
arrived only that morning from Rotterdam. They had been married
for twenty-two years and had lived happily until about two years
ago when his wife began to be rather intemperate in her habits.

Miss Mary Sinico said that of late her mother had been in the habit
of going out at night to buy spirits. She, witness, had often tried to
reason with her mother and had induced her to join a League. She
was not at home until an hour after the accident. The jury returned
a verdict in accordance with the medical evidence and exonerated
Lennon from all blame.

The Deputy Coroner said it was a most painful case, and expressed
great sympathy with Captain Sinico and his daughter. He urged on
the railway company to take strong measures to prevent the
possibility of similar accidents in the future. No blame attached to

Mr. Duffy raised his eyes from the paper and gazed out of his
window on the cheerless evening landscape. The river lay quiet
beside the empty distillery and from time to time a light appeared
in some house on the Lucan road. What an end! The whole
narrative of her death revolted him and it revolted him to think that
he had ever spoken to her of what he held sacred. The threadbare
phrases, the inane expressions of sympathy, the cautious words of
a reporter won over to conceal the details of a commonplace
vulgar death attacked his stomach. Not merely had she degraded
herself; she had degraded him. He saw the squalid tract of her vice,
miserable and malodorous. His soul's companion! He thought of
the hobbling wretches whom he had seen carrying cans and bottles
to be filled by the barman. Just God, what an end! Evidently she
had been unfit to live, without any strength of purpose, an easy
prey to habits, one of the wrecks on which civilisation has been
reared. But that she could have sunk so low! Was it possible he
had deceived himself so utterly about her? He remembered her
outburst of that night and interpreted it in a harsher sense than he
had ever done. He had no difficulty now in approving of the course
he had taken.

As the light failed and his memory began to wander he thought her
hand touched his. The shock which had first attacked his stomach
was now attacking his nerves. He put on his overcoat and hat
quickly and went out. The cold air met him on the threshold; it
crept into the sleeves of his coat. When he came to the
public-house at Chapelizod Bridge he went in and ordered a hot

The proprietor served him obsequiously but did not venture to talk.
There were five or six workingmen in the shop discussing the
value of a gentleman's estate in County Kildare They drank at
intervals from their huge pint tumblers and smoked, spitting often
on the floor and sometimes dragging the sawdust over their spits
with their heavy boots. Mr. Duffy sat on his stool and gazed at
them, without seeing or hearing them. After a while they went out
and he called for another punch. He sat a long time over it. The
shop was very quiet. The proprietor sprawled on the counter
reading the Herald and yawning. Now and again a tram was heard
swishing along the lonely road outside.

As he sat there, living over his life with her and evoking
alternately the two images in which he now conceived her, he
realised that she was dead, that she had ceased to exist, that she
had become a memory. He began to feel ill at ease. He asked
himself what else could he have done. He could not have carried
on a comedy of deception with her; he could not have lived with
her openly. He had done what seemed to him best. How was he to
blame? Now that she was gone he understood how lonely her life
must have been, sitting night after night alone in that room. His
life would be lonely too until he, too, died, ceased to exist, became
a memory--if anyone remembered him.

It was after nine o'clock when he left the shop. The night was cold
and gloomy. He entered the Park by the first gate and walked along
under the gaunt trees. He walked through the bleak alleys where
they had walked four years before. She seemed to be near him in
the darkness. At moments he seemed to feel her voice touch his
ear, her hand touch his. He stood still to listen. Why had he
withheld life from her? Why had he sentenced her to death? He
felt his moral nature falling to pieces.

When he gained the crest of the Magazine Hill he halted and
looked along the river towards Dublin, the lights of which burned
redly and hospitably in the cold night. He looked down the slope
and, at the base, in the shadow of the wall of the Park, he saw
some human figures lying. Those venal and furtive loves filled him
with despair. He gnawed the rectitude of his life; he felt that he
had been outcast from life's feast. One human being had seemed to
love him and he had denied her life and happiness: he had
sentenced her to ignominy, a death of shame. He knew that the
prostrate creatures down by the wall were watching him and
wished him gone. No one wanted him; he was outcast from life's
feast. He turned his eyes to the grey gleaming river, winding along
towards Dublin. Beyond the river he saw a goods train winding out
of Kingsbridge Station, like a worm with a fiery head winding
through the darkness, obstinately and laboriously. It passed slowly
out of sight; but still he heard in his ears the laborious drone of the
engine reiterating the syllables of her name.

He turned back the way he had come, the rhythm of the engine
pounding in his ears. He began to doubt the reality of what
memory told him. He halted under a tree and allowed the rhythm
to die away. He could not feel her near him in the darkness nor her
voice touch his ear. He waited for some minutes listening. He
could hear nothing: the night was perfectly silent. He listened
again: perfectly silent. He felt that he was alone.

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