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Dubliners - A Mother

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 HOLOHAN, assistant secretary of the Eire Abu Society, had
been walking up and down Dublin for nearly a month, with his
hands and pockets full of dirty pieces of paper, arranging about the
series of concerts. He had a game leg and for this his friends called
him Hoppy Holohan. He walked up and down constantly, stood by
the hour at street corners arguing the point and made notes; but in
the end it was Mrs. Kearney who arranged everything.

Miss Devlin had become Mrs. Kearney out of spite. She had been
educated in a high-class convent, where she had learned French
and music. As she was naturally pale and unbending in manner she
made few friends at school. When she came to the age of marriage
she was sent out to many houses, where her playing and ivory
manners were much admired. She sat amid the chilly circle of her
accomplishments, waiting for some suitor to brave it and offer her
a brilliant life. But the young men whom she met were ordinary
and she gave them no encouragement, trying to console her
romantic desires by eating a great deal of Turkish Delight in
secret. However, when she drew near the limit and her friends
began to loosen their tongues about her, she silenced them by
marrying Mr. Kearney, who was a bootmaker on Ormond Quay.

He was much older than she. His conversation, which was serious,
took place at intervals in his great brown beard. After the first year
of married life, Mrs. Kearney perceived that such a man would
wear better than a romantic person, but she never put her own
romantic ideas away. He was sober, thrifty and pious; he went to
the altar every first Friday, sometimes with her, oftener by himself.
But she never weakened in her religion and was a good wife to
him. At some party in a strange house when she lifted her eyebrow
ever so slightly he stood up to take his leave and, when his cough
troubled him, she put the eider-down quilt over his feet and made a
strong rum punch. For his part, he was a model father. By paying a
small sum every week into a society, he ensured for both his
daughters a dowry of one hundred pounds each when they came to
the age of twenty-four. He sent the older daughter, Kathleen, to a
good convent, where she learned French and music, and afterward
paid her fees at the Academy. Every year in the month of July Mrs.
Kearney found occasion to say to some friend:

"My good man is packing us off to Skerries for a few weeks."

If it was not Skerries it was Howth or Greystones.

When the Irish Revival began to be appreciable Mrs. Kearney
determined to take advantage of her daughter's name and brought
an Irish teacher to the house. Kathleen and her sister sent Irish
picture postcards to their friends and these friends sent back other
Irish picture postcards. On special Sundays, when Mr. Kearney
went with his family to the pro-cathedral, a little crowd of people
would assemble after mass at the corner of Cathedral Street. They
were all friends of the Kearneys--musical friends or Nationalist
friends; and, when they had played every little counter of gossip,
they shook hands with one another all together, laughing at the
crossing of so man hands, and said good-bye to one another in
Irish. Soon the name of Miss Kathleen Kearney began to be heard
often on people's lips. People said that she was very clever at
music and a very nice girl and, moreover, that she was a believer
in the language movement. Mrs. Kearney was well content at this.
Therefore she was not surprised when one day Mr. Holohan came
to her and proposed that her daughter should be the accompanist at
a series of four grand concerts which his Society was going to give
in the Antient Concert Rooms. She brought him into the
drawing-room, made him sit down and brought out the decanter
and the silver biscuit-barrel. She entered heart and soul into the
details of the enterprise, advised and dissuaded: and finally a
contract was drawn up by which Kathleen was to receive eight
guineas for her services as accompanist at the four grand concerts.

As Mr. Holohan was a novice in such delicate matters as the
wording of bills and the disposing of items for a programme, Mrs.
Kearney helped him. She had tact. She knew what artistes should
go into capitals and what artistes should go into small type. She
knew that the first tenor would not like to come on after Mr.
Meade's comic turn. To keep the audience continually diverted she
slipped the doubtful items in between the old favourites. Mr.
Holohan called to see her every day to have her advice on some
point. She was invariably friendly and advising--homely, in fact.
She pushed the decanter towards him, saying:

"Now, help yourself, Mr. Holohan!"

And while he was helping himself she said:

"Don't be afraid! Don t be afraid of it! "

Everything went on smoothly. Mrs. Kearney bought some lovely
blush-pink charmeuse in Brown Thomas's to let into the front of
Kathleen's dress. It cost a pretty penny; but there are occasions
when a little expense is justifiable. She took a dozen of
two-shilling tickets for the final concert and sent them to those
friends who could not be trusted to come otherwise. She forgot
nothing, and, thanks to her, everything that was to be done was

The concerts were to be on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and
Saturday. When Mrs. Kearney arrived with her daughter at the
Antient Concert Rooms on Wednesday night she did not like the
look of things. A few young men, wearing bright blue badges in
their coats, stood idle in the vestibule; none of them wore evening
dress. She passed by with her daughter and a quick glance through
the open door of the hall showed her the cause of the stewards'
idleness. At first she wondered had she mistaken the hour. No, it
was twenty minutes to eight.

In the dressing-room behind the stage she was introduced to the
secretary of the Society, Mr. Fitzpatrick. She smiled and shook his
hand. He was a little man, with a white, vacant face. She noticed
that he wore his soft brown hat carelessly on the side of his head
and that his accent was flat. He held a programme in his hand, and,
while he was talking to her, he chewed one end of it into a moist
pulp. He seemed to bear disappointments lightly. Mr. Holohan
came into the dressingroom every few minutes with reports from
the box- office. The artistes talked among themselves nervously,
glanced from time to time at the mirror and rolled and unrolled
their music. When it was nearly half-past eight, the few people in
the hall began to express their desire to be entertained. Mr.
Fitzpatrick came in, smiled vacantly at the room, and said:

"Well now, ladies and gentlemen. I suppose we'd better open the

Mrs. Kearney rewarded his very flat final syllable with a quick
stare of contempt, and then said to her daughter encouragingly:

"Are you ready, dear?"

When she had an opportunity, she called Mr. Holohan aside and
asked him to tell her what it meant. Mr. Holohan did not know
what it meant. He said that the committee had made a mistake in
arranging for four concerts: four was too many.

"And the artistes!" said Mrs. Kearney. "Of course they are doing
their best, but really they are not good."

Mr. Holohan admitted that the artistes were no good but the
committee, he said, had decided to let the first three concerts go as
they pleased and reserve all the talent for Saturday night. Mrs.
Kearney said nothing, but, as the mediocre items followed one
another on the platform and the few people in the hall grew fewer
and fewer, she began to regret that she had put herself to any
expense for such a concert. There was something she didn't like in
the look of things and Mr. Fitzpatrick's vacant smile irritated her
very much. However, she said nothing and waited to see how it
would end. The concert expired shortly before ten, and everyone
went home quickly.

The concert on Thursday night was better attended, but Mrs.
Kearney saw at once that the house was filled with paper. The
audience behaved indecorously, as if the concert were an informal
dress rehearsal. Mr. Fitzpatrick seemed to enjoy himself; he was
quite unconscious that Mrs. Kearney was taking angry note of his
conduct. He stood at the edge of the screen, from time to time
jutting out his head and exchanging a laugh with two friends in the
corner of the balcony. In the course of the evening, Mrs. Kearney
learned that the Friday concert was to be abandoned and that the
committee was going to move heaven and earth to secure a
bumper house on Saturday night. When she heard this, she sought
out Mr. Holohan. She buttonholed him as he was limping out
quickly with a glass of lemonade for a young lady and asked him
was it true. Yes. it was true.

"But, of course, that doesn't alter the contract," she said. "The
contract was for four concerts."

Mr. Holohan seemed to be in a hurry; he advised her to speak to
Mr. Fitzpatrick. Mrs. Kearney was now beginning to be alarmed.
She called Mr. Fitzpatrick away from his screen and told him that
her daughter had signed for four concerts and that, of course,
according to the terms of the contract, she should receive the sum
originally stipulated for, whether the society gave the four concerts
or not. Mr. Fitzpatrick, who did not catch the point at issue very
quickly, seemed unable to resolve the difficulty and said that he
would bring the matter before the committee. Mrs. Kearney's anger
began to flutter in her cheek and she had all she could do to keep
from asking:

"And who is the Cometty pray?"

But she knew that it would not be ladylike to do that: so she was

Little boys were sent out into the principal streets of Dublin early
on Friday morning with bundles of handbills. Special puffs
appeared in all the evening papers, reminding the music loving
public of the treat which was in store for it on the following
evening. Mrs. Kearney was somewhat reassured, but be thought
well to tell her husband part of her suspicions. He listened
carefully and said that perhaps it would be better if he went with
her on Saturday night. She agreed. She respected her husband in
the same way as she respected the General Post Office, as
something large, secure and fixed; and though she knew the small
number of his talents she appreciated his abstract value as a male.
She was glad that he had suggested coming with her. She thought
her plans over.

The night of the grand concert came. Mrs. Kearney, with her
husband and daughter, arrived at the Antient Concert Rooms
three-quarters of an hour before the time at which the concert was
to begin. By ill luck it was a rainy evening. Mrs. Kearney placed
her daughter's clothes and music in charge of her husband and
went all over the building looking for Mr. Holohan or Mr.
Fitzpatrick. She could find neither. She asked the stewards was any
member of the committee in the hall and, after a great deal of
trouble, a steward brought out a little woman named Miss Beirne
to whom Mrs. Kearney explained that she wanted to see one of the
secretaries. Miss Beirne expected them any minute and asked
could she do anything. Mrs. Kearney looked searchingly at the
oldish face which was screwed into an expression of trustfulness
and enthusiasm and answered:

"No, thank you!"

The little woman hoped they would have a good house. She looked
out at the rain until the melancholy of the wet street effaced all the
trustfulness and enthusiasm from her twisted features. Then she
gave a little sigh and said:

"Ah, well! We did our best, the dear knows."

Mrs. Kearney had to go back to the dressing-room.

The artistes were arriving. The bass and the second tenor had
already come. The bass, Mr. Duggan, was a slender young man
with a scattered black moustache. He was the son of a hall porter
in an office in the city and, as a boy, he had sung prolonged bass
notes in the resounding hall. From this humble state he had raised
himself until he had become a first-rate artiste. He had appeared in
grand opera. One night, when an operatic artiste had fallen ill, he
had undertaken the part of the king in the opera of Maritana at the
Queen's Theatre. He sang his music with great feeling and volume
and was warmly welcomed by the gallery; but, unfortunately, he
marred the good impression by wiping his nose in his gloved hand
once or twice out of thoughtlessness. He was unassuming and
spoke little. He said yous so softly that it passed unnoticed and he
never drank anything stronger than milk for his voice's sake. Mr.
Bell, the second tenor, was a fair-haired little man who competed
every year for prizes at the Feis Ceoil. On his fourth trial he had
been awarded a bronze medal. He was extremely nervous and
extremely jealous of other tenors and he covered his nervous
jealousy with an ebullient friendliness. It was his humour to have
people know what an ordeal a concert was to him. Therefore when
he saw Mr. Duggan he went over to him and asked:

"Are you in it too? "

"Yes," said Mr. Duggan.

Mr. Bell laughed at his fellow-sufferer, held out his hand and said:


Mrs. Kearney passed by these two young men and went to the edge
of the screen to view the house. The seats were being filled up
rapidly and a pleasant noise circulated in the auditorium. She came
back and spoke to her husband privately. Their conversation was
evidently about Kathleen for they both glanced at her often as she
stood chatting to one of her Nationalist friends, Miss Healy, the
contralto. An unknown solitary woman with a pale face walked
through the room. The women followed with keen eyes the faded
blue dress which was stretched upon a meagre body. Someone said
that she was Madam Glynn, the soprano.

"I wonder where did they dig her up," said Kathleen to Miss Healy.
"I'm sure I never heard of her."

Miss Healy had to smile. Mr. Holohan limped into the
dressing-room at that moment and the two young ladies asked him
who was the unknown woman. Mr. Holohan said that she was
Madam Glynn from London. Madam Glynn took her stand in a
corner of the room, holding a roll of music stiffly before her and
from time to time changing the direction of her startled gaze. The
shadow took her faded dress into shelter but fell revengefully into
the little cup behind her collar-bone. The noise of the hall became
more audible. The first tenor and the baritone arrived together.
They were both well dressed, stout and complacent and they
brought a breath of opulence among the company.

Mrs. Kearney brought her daughter over to them, and talked to
them amiably. She wanted to be on good terms with them but,
while she strove to be polite, her eyes followed Mr. Holohan in his
limping and devious courses. As soon as she could she excused
herself and went out after him.

"Mr. Holohan, I want to speak to you for a moment," she said.

They went down to a discreet part of the corridor. Mrs Kearney
asked him when was her daughter going to be paid. Mr. Holohan
said that Mr. Fitzpatrick had charge of that. Mrs. Kearney said that
she didn't know anything about Mr. Fitzpatrick. Her daughter had
signed a contract for eight guineas and she would have to be paid.
Mr. Holohan said that it wasn't his business.

"Why isn't it your business?" asked Mrs. Kearney. "Didn't you
yourself bring her the contract? Anyway, if it's not your business
it's my business and I mean to see to it."

"You'd better speak to Mr. Fitzpatrick," said Mr. Holohan

"I don't know anything about Mr. Fitzpatrick," repeated Mrs.
Kearney. "I have my contract, and I intend to see that it is carried

When she came back to the dressing-room her cheeks were slightly
suffused. The room was lively. Two men in outdoor dress had
taken possession of the fireplace and were chatting familiarly with
Miss Healy and the baritone. They were the Freeman man and Mr.
O'Madden Burke. The Freeman man had come in to say that he
could not wait for the concert as he had to report the lecture which
an American priest was giving in the Mansion House. He said they
were to leave the report for him at the Freeman office and he
would see that it went in. He was a grey-haired man, with a
plausible voice and careful manners. He held an extinguished cigar
in his hand and the aroma of cigar smoke floated near him. He had
not intended to stay a moment because concerts and artistes bored
him considerably but he remained leaning against the mantelpiece.
Miss Healy stood in front of him, talking and laughing. He was old
enough to suspect one reason for her politeness but young enough
in spirit to turn the moment to account. The warmth, fragrance and
colour of her body appealed to his senses. He was pleasantly
conscious that the bosom which he saw rise and fall slowly
beneath him rose and fell at that moment for him, that the laughter
and fragrance and wilful glances were his tribute. When he could
stay no longer he took leave of her regretfully.

"O'Madden Burke will write the notice," he explained to Mr.
Holohan, "and I'll see it in."

"Thank you very much, Mr. Hendrick," said Mr. Holohan. you'll
see it in, I know. Now, won't you have a little something before
you go?"

"I don't mind," said Mr. Hendrick.

The two men went along some tortuous passages and up a dark
staircase and came to a secluded room where one of the stewards
was uncorking bottles for a few gentlemen. One of these
gentlemen was Mr. O'Madden Burke, who had found out the room
by instinct. He was a suave, elderly man who balanced his
imposing body, when at rest, upon a large silk umbrella. His
magniloquent western name was the moral umbrella upon which
he balanced the fine problem of his finances. He was widely

While Mr. Holohan was entertaining the Freeman man Mrs.
Kearney was speaking so animatedly to her husband that he had to
ask her to lower her voice. The conversation of the others in the
dressing-room had become strained. Mr. Bell, the first item, stood
ready with his music but the accompanist made no sign. Evidently
something was wrong. Mr. Kearney looked straight before him,
stroking his beard, while Mrs. Kearney spoke into Kathleen's ear
with subdued emphasis. From the hall came sounds of
encouragement, clapping and stamping of feet. The first tenor and
the baritone and Miss Healy stood together, waiting tranquilly, but
Mr. Bell's nerves were greatly agitated because he was afraid the
audience would think that he had come late.

Mr. Holohan and Mr. O'Madden Burke came into the room In a
moment Mr. Holohan perceived the hush. He went over to Mrs.
Kearney and spoke with her earnestly. While they were speaking
the noise in the hall grew louder. Mr. Holohan became very red
and excited. He spoke volubly, but Mrs. Kearney said curtly at

"She won't go on. She must get her eight guineas."

Mr. Holohan pointed desperately towards the hall where the
audience was clapping and stamping. He appealed to Mr Kearney
and to Kathleen. But Mr. Kearney continued to stroke his beard
and Kathleen looked down, moving the point of her new shoe: it
was not her fault. Mrs. Kearney repeated:

"She won't go on without her money."

After a swift struggle of tongues Mr. Holohan hobbled out in haste.
The room was silent. When the strain of the silence had become
somewhat painful Miss Healy said to the baritone:

"Have you seen Mrs. Pat Campbell this week?"

The baritone had not seen her but he had been told that she was
very fine. The conversation went no further. The first tenor bent
his head and began to count the links of the gold chain which was
extended across his waist, smiling and humming random notes to
observe the effect on the frontal sinus. From time to time everyone
glanced at Mrs. Kearney.

The noise in the auditorium had risen to a clamour when Mr.
Fitzpatrick burst into the room, followed by Mr. Holohan who was
panting. The clapping and stamping in the hall were punctuated by
whistling. Mr. Fitzpatrick held a few banknotes in his hand. He
counted out four into Mrs. Kearney's hand and said she would get
the other half at the interval. Mrs. Kearney said:

"This is four shillings short."

But Kathleen gathered in her skirt and said: "Now. Mr. Bell," to
the first item, who was shaking like an aspen. The singer and the
accompanist went out together. The noise in hall died away. There
was a pause of a few seconds: and then the piano was heard.

The first part of the concert was very successful except for Madam
Glynn's item. The poor lady sang Killarney in a bodiless gasping
voice, with all the old-fashioned mannerisms of intonation and
pronunciation which she believed lent elegance to her singing. She
looked as if she had been resurrected from an old stage-wardrobe
and the cheaper parts of the hall made fun of her high wailing
notes. The first tenor and the contralto, however, brought down the
house. Kathleen played a selection of Irish airs which was
generously applauded. The first part closed with a stirring patriotic
recitation delivered by a young lady who arranged amateur
theatricals. It was deservedly applauded; and, when it was ended,
the men went out for the interval, content.

All this time the dressing-room was a hive of excitement. In one
corner were Mr. Holohan, Mr. Fitzpatrick, Miss Beirne, two of the
stewards, the baritone, the bass, and Mr. O'Madden Burke. Mr.
O'Madden Burke said it was the most scandalous exhibition he had
ever witnessed. Miss Kathleen Kearney's musical career was ended
in Dublin after that, he said. The baritone was asked what did he
think of Mrs. Kearney's conduct. He did not like to say anything.
He had been paid his money and wished to be at peace with men.
However, he said that Mrs. Kearney might have taken the artistes
into consideration. The stewards and the secretaries debated hotly
as to what should be done when the interval came.

"I agree with Miss Beirne," said Mr. O'Madden Burke. "Pay her

In another corner of the room were Mrs. Kearney and he: husband,
Mr. Bell, Miss Healy and the young lady who had to recite the
patriotic piece. Mrs. Kearney said that the Committee had treated
her scandalously. She had spared neither trouble nor expense and
this was how she was repaid.

They thought they had only a girl to deal with and that therefore,
they could ride roughshod over her. But she would show them
their mistake. They wouldn't have dared to have treated her like
that if she had been a man. But she would see that her daughter got
her rights: she wouldn't be fooled. If they didn't pay her to the last
farthing she would make Dublin ring. Of course she was sorry for
the sake of the artistes. But what else could she do? She appealed
to the second tenor who said he thought she had not been well
treated. Then she appealed to Miss Healy. Miss Healy wanted to
join the other group but she did not like to do so because she was a
great friend of Kathleen's and the Kearneys had often invited her to
their house.

As soon as the first part was ended Mr. Fitzpatrick and Mr.
Holohan went over to Mrs. Kearney and told her that the other four
guineas would be paid after the committee meeting on the
following Tuesday and that, in case her daughter did not play for
the second part, the committee would consider the contract broken
and would pay nothing.

"I haven't seen any committee," said Mrs. Kearney angrily. "My
daughter has her contract. She will get four pounds eight into her
hand or a foot she won't put on that platform."

"I'm surprised at you, Mrs. Kearney," said Mr. Holohan. "I never
thought you would treat us this way."

"And what way did you treat me?" asked Mrs. Kearney.

Her face was inundated with an angry colour and she looked as if
she would attack someone with her hands.

"I'm asking for my rights." she said.

You might have some sense of decency," said Mr. Holohan.

"Might I, indeed?... And when I ask when my daughter is going to
be paid I can't get a civil answer."

She tossed her head and assumed a haughty voice:

"You must speak to the secretary. It's not my business. I'm a great
fellow fol-the-diddle-I-do."

"I thought you were a lady," said Mr. Holohan, walking away from
her abruptly.

After that Mrs. Kearney's conduct was condemned on all hands:
everyone approved of what the committee had done. She stood at
the door, haggard with rage, arguing with her husband and
daughter, gesticulating with them. She waited until it was time for
the second part to begin in the hope that the secretaries would
approach her. But Miss Healy had kindly consented to play one or
two accompaniments. Mrs. Kearney had to stand aside to allow the
baritone and his accompanist to pass up to the platform. She stood
still for an instant like an angry stone image and, when the first
notes of the song struck her ear, she caught up her daughter's cloak
and said to her husband:

"Get a cab!"

He went out at once. Mrs. Kearney wrapped the cloak round her
daughter and followed him. As she passed through the doorway
she stopped and glared into Mr. Holohan's face.

"I'm not done with you yet," she said.

"But I'm done with you," said Mr. Holohan.

Kathleen followed her mother meekly. Mr. Holohan began to pace
up and down the room, in order to cool himself for he his skin on

"That's a nice lady!" he said. "O, she's a nice lady!"

You did the proper thing, Holohan," said Mr. O'Madden Burke,
poised upon his umbrella in approval.

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