NORTH RICHMOND STREET being blind, was a quiet street
except at the hour when the Christian Brothers' School set the boys
free. An uninhabited house of two storeys stood at the blind end,
detached from its neighbours in a square ground The other houses
of the street, conscious of decent lives within them, gazed at one
another with brown imperturbable faces.
The former tenant of our house, a priest, had died in the back
drawing-room. Air, musty from having been long enclosed, hung
in all the rooms, and the waste room behind the kitchen was
littered with old useless papers. Among these I found a few
paper-covered books, the pages of which were curled and damp:
The Abbot, by Walter Scott, The Devout Communnicant and The
Memoirs of Vidocq. I liked the last best because its leaves were
yellow. The wild garden behind the house contained a central
apple-tree and a few straggling bushes under one of which I found
the late tenant's rusty bicycle-pump. He had been a very charitable
priest; in his will he had left all his money to institutions and the
furniture of his house to his sister.
When the short days of winter came dusk fell before we had well
eaten our dinners. When we met in the street the houses had grown
sombre. The space of sky above us was the colour of
ever-changing violet and towards it the lamps of the street lifted
their feeble lanterns. The cold air stung us and we played till our
bodies glowed. Our shouts echoed in the silent street. The career
of our play brought us through the dark muddy lanes behind the
houses where we ran the gauntlet of the rough tribes from the
cottages, to the back doors of the dark dripping gardens where
odours arose from the ashpits, to the dark odorous stables where a
coachman smoothed and combed the horse or shook music from
the buckled harness. When we returned to the street light from the
kitchen windows had filled the areas. If my uncle was seen turning
the corner we hid in the shadow until we had seen him safely
housed. Or if Mangan's sister came out on the doorstep to call her
brother in to his tea we watched her from our shadow peer up and
down the street. We waited to see whether she would remain or go
in and, if she remained, we left our shadow and walked up to
Mangan's steps resignedly. She was waiting for us, her figure
defined by the light from the half-opened door. Her brother always
teased her before he obeyed and I stood by the railings looking at
her. Her dress swung as she moved her body and the soft rope of
her hair tossed from side to side.
Every morning I lay on the floor in the front parlour watching her
door. The blind was pulled down to within an inch of the sash so
that I could not be seen. When she came out on the doorstep my
heart leaped. I ran to the hall, seized my books and followed her. I
kept her brown figure always in my eye and, when we came near
the point at which our ways diverged, I quickened my pace and
passed her. This happened morning after morning. I had never
spoken to her, except for a few casual words, and yet her name
was like a summons to all my foolish blood.
Her image accompanied me even in places the most hostile to
romance. On Saturday evenings when my aunt went marketing I
had to go to carry some of the parcels. We walked through the
flaring streets, jostled by drunken men and bargaining women,
amid the curses of labourers, the shrill litanies of shop-boys who
stood on guard by the barrels of pigs' cheeks, the nasal chanting of
street-singers, who sang a come-all-you about O'Donovan Rossa,
or a ballad about the troubles in our native land. These noises
converged in a single sensation of life for me: I imagined that I
bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes. Her name sprang
to my lips at moments in strange prayers and praises which I
myself did not understand. My eyes were often full of tears (I
could not tell why) and at times a flood from my heart seemed to
pour itself out into my bosom. I thought little of the future. I did
not know whether I would ever speak to her or not or, if I spoke to
her, how I could tell her of my confused adoration. But my body
was like a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers
running upon the wires.
One evening I went into the back drawing-room in which the priest
had died. It was a dark rainy evening and there was no sound in the
house. Through one of the broken panes I heard the rain impinge
upon the earth, the fine incessant needles of water playing in the
sodden beds. Some distant lamp or lighted window gleamed below
me. I was thankful that I could see so little. All my senses seemed
to desire to veil themselves and, feeling that I was about to slip
from them, I pressed the palms of my hands together until they
trembled, murmuring: "O love! O love!" many times.
At last she spoke to me. When she addressed the first words to me
I was so confused that I did not know what to answer. She asked
me was I going to Araby. I forgot whether I answered yes or no. It
would be a splendid bazaar, she said she would love to go.
"And why can't you?" I asked.
While she spoke she turned a silver bracelet round and round her
wrist. She could not go, she said, because there would be a retreat
that week in her convent. Her brother and two other boys were
fighting for their caps and I was alone at the railings. She held one
of the spikes, bowing her head towards me. The light from the
lamp opposite our door caught the white curve of her neck, lit up
her hair that rested there and, falling, lit up the hand upon the
railing. It fell over one side of her dress and caught the white
border of a petticoat, just visible as she stood at ease.
"It's well for you," she said.
"If I go," I said, "I will bring you something."
What innumerable follies laid waste my waking and sleeping
thoughts after that evening! I wished to annihilate the tedious
intervening days. I chafed against the work of school. At night in
my bedroom and by day in the classroom her image came between
me and the page I strove to read. The syllables of the word Araby
were called to me through the silence in which my soul luxuriated
and cast an Eastern enchantment over me. I asked for leave to go
to the bazaar on Saturday night. My aunt was surprised and hoped
it was not some Freemason affair. I answered few questions in
class. I watched my master's face pass from amiability to
sternness; he hoped I was not beginning to idle. I could not call my
wandering thoughts together. I had hardly any patience with the
serious work of life which, now that it stood between me and my
desire, seemed to me child's play, ugly monotonous child's play.
On Saturday morning I reminded my uncle that I wished to go to
the bazaar in the evening. He was fussing at the hallstand, looking
for the hat-brush, and answered me curtly:
"Yes, boy, I know."
As he was in the hall I could not go into the front parlour and lie at
the window. I left the house in bad humour and walked slowly
towards the school. The air was pitilessly raw and already my heart
When I came home to dinner my uncle had not yet been home.
Still it was early. I sat staring at the clock for some time and. when
its ticking began to irritate me, I left the room. I mounted the
staircase and gained the upper part of the house. The high cold
empty gloomy rooms liberated me and I went from room to room
singing. From the front window I saw my companions playing
below in the street. Their cries reached me weakened and
indistinct and, leaning my forehead against the cool glass, I looked
over at the dark house where she lived. I may have stood there for
an hour, seeing nothing but the brown-clad figure cast by my
imagination, touched discreetly by the lamplight at the curved
neck, at the hand upon the railings and at the border below the
When I came downstairs again I found Mrs. Mercer sitting at the
fire. She was an old garrulous woman, a pawnbroker's widow, who
collected used stamps for some pious purpose. I had to endure the
gossip of the tea-table. The meal was prolonged beyond an hour
and still my uncle did not come. Mrs. Mercer stood up to go: she
was sorry she couldn't wait any longer, but it was after eight
o'clock and she did not like to be out late as the night air was bad
for her. When she had gone I began to walk up and down the
room, clenching my fists. My aunt said:
"I'm afraid you may put off your bazaar for this night of Our Lord."
At nine o'clock I heard my uncle's latchkey in the halldoor. I heard
him talking to himself and heard the hallstand rocking when it had
received the weight of his overcoat. I could interpret these signs.
When he was midway through his dinner I asked him to give me
the money to go to the bazaar. He had forgotten.
"The people are in bed and after their first sleep now," he said.
I did not smile. My aunt said to him energetically:
"Can't you give him the money and let him go? You've kept him
late enough as it is."
My uncle said he was very sorry he had forgotten. He said he
believed in the old saying: "All work and no play makes Jack a
dull boy." He asked me where I was going and, when I had told
him a second time he asked me did I know The Arab's Farewell to
his Steed. When I left the kitchen he was about to recite the
opening lines of the piece to my aunt.
I held a florin tightly in my hand as I strode down Buckingham
Street towards the station. The sight of the streets thronged with
buyers and glaring with gas recalled to me the purpose of my
journey. I took my seat in a third-class carriage of a deserted train.
After an intolerable delay the train moved out of the station
slowly. It crept onward among ruinous house and over the
twinkling river. At Westland Row Station a crowd of people
pressed to the carriage doors; but the porters moved them back,
saying that it was a special train for the bazaar. I remained alone in
the bare carriage. In a few minutes the train drew up beside an
improvised wooden platform. I passed out on to the road and saw
by the lighted dial of a clock that it was ten minutes to ten. In front
of me was a large building which displayed the magical name.
I could not find any sixpenny entrance and, fearing that the bazaar
would be closed, I passed in quickly through a turnstile, handing a
shilling to a weary-looking man. I found myself in a big hall
girdled at half its height by a gallery. Nearly all the stalls were
closed and the greater part of the hall was in darkness. I recognised
a silence like that which pervades a church after a service. I
walked into the centre of the bazaar timidly. A few people were
gathered about the stalls which were still open. Before a curtain,
over which the words Cafe Chantant were written in coloured
lamps, two men were counting money on a salver. I listened to the
fall of the coins.
Remembering with difficulty why I had come I went over to one of
the stalls and examined porcelain vases and flowered tea- sets. At
the door of the stall a young lady was talking and laughing with
two young gentlemen. I remarked their English accents and
listened vaguely to their conversation.
"O, I never said such a thing!"
"O, but you did!"
"O, but I didn't!"
"Didn't she say that?"
"Yes. I heard her."
"0, there's a ... fib!"
Observing me the young lady came over and asked me did I wish
to buy anything. The tone of her voice was not encouraging; she
seemed to have spoken to me out of a sense of duty. I looked
humbly at the great jars that stood like eastern guards at either side
of the dark entrance to the stall and murmured:
"No, thank you."
The young lady changed the position of one of the vases and went
back to the two young men. They began to talk of the same
subject. Once or twice the young lady glanced at me over her
I lingered before her stall, though I knew my stay was useless, to
make my interest in her wares seem the more real. Then I turned
away slowly and walked down the middle of the bazaar. I allowed
the two pennies to fall against the sixpence in my pocket. I heard a
voice call from one end of the gallery that the light was out. The
upper part of the hall was now completely dark.
Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and
derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.