SHE sat at the window watching the evening invade the avenue.
Her head was leaned against the window curtains and in her
nostrils was the odour of dusty cretonne. She was tired.
Few people passed. The man out of the last house passed on his
way home; she heard his footsteps clacking along the concrete
pavement and afterwards crunching on the cinder path before the
new red houses. One time there used to be a field there in which
they used to play every evening with other people's children. Then
a man from Belfast bought the field and built houses in it--not
like their little brown houses but bright brick houses with shining
roofs. The children of the avenue used to play together in that field
--the Devines, the Waters, the Dunns, little Keogh the cripple, she
and her brothers and sisters. Ernest, however, never played: he was
too grown up. Her father used often to hunt them in out of the field
with his blackthorn stick; but usually little Keogh used to keep nix
and call out when he saw her father coming. Still they seemed to
have been rather happy then. Her father was not so bad then; and
besides, her mother was alive. That was a long time ago; she and
her brothers and sisters were all grown up her mother was dead.
Tizzie Dunn was dead, too, and the Waters had gone back to
England. Everything changes. Now she was going to go away like
the others, to leave her home.
Home! She looked round the room, reviewing all its familiar
objects which she had dusted once a week for so many years,
wondering where on earth all the dust came from. Perhaps she
would never see again those familiar objects from which she had
never dreamed of being divided. And yet during all those years she
had never found out the name of the priest whose yellowing
photograph hung on the wall above the broken harmonium beside
the coloured print of the promises made to Blessed Margaret Mary
Alacoque. He had been a school friend of her father. Whenever he
showed the photograph to a visitor her father used to pass it with a
"He is in Melbourne now."
She had consented to go away, to leave her home. Was that wise?
She tried to weigh each side of the question. In her home anyway
she had shelter and food; she had those whom she had known all
her life about her. O course she had to work hard, both in the
house and at business. What would they say of her in the Stores
when they found out that she had run away with a fellow? Say she
was a fool, perhaps; and her place would be filled up by
advertisement. Miss Gavan would be glad. She had always had an
edge on her, especially whenever there were people listening.
"Miss Hill, don't you see these ladies are waiting?"
"Look lively, Miss Hill, please."
She would not cry many tears at leaving the Stores.
But in her new home, in a distant unknown country, it would not
be like that. Then she would be married--she, Eveline. People
would treat her with respect then. She would not be treated as her
mother had been. Even now, though she was over nineteen, she
sometimes felt herself in danger of her father's violence. She knew
it was that that had given her the palpitations. When they were
growing up he had never gone for her like he used to go for Harry
and Ernest, because she was a girl but latterly he had begun to
threaten her and say what he would do to her only for her dead
mother's sake. And no she had nobody to protect her. Ernest was
dead and Harry, who was in the church decorating business, was
nearly always down somewhere in the country. Besides, the
invariable squabble for money on Saturday nights had begun to
weary her unspeakably. She always gave her entire wages--seven
shillings--and Harry always sent up what he could but the trouble
was to get any money from her father. He said she used to
squander the money, that she had no head, that he wasn't going to
give her his hard-earned money to throw about the streets, and
much more, for he was usually fairly bad on Saturday night. In the
end he would give her the money and ask her had she any intention
of buying Sunday's dinner. Then she had to rush out as quickly as
she could and do her marketing, holding her black leather purse
tightly in her hand as she elbowed her way through the crowds and
returning home late under her load of provisions. She had hard
work to keep the house together and to see that the two young
children who had been left to hr charge went to school regularly
and got their meals regularly. It was hard work--a hard life--but
now that she was about to leave it she did not find it a wholly
She was about to explore another life with Frank. Frank was very
kind, manly, open-hearted. She was to go away with him by the
night-boat to be his wife and to live with him in Buenos Ayres
where he had a home waiting for her. How well she remembered
the first time she had seen him; he was lodging in a house on the
main road where she used to visit. It seemed a few weeks ago. He
was standing at the gate, his peaked cap pushed back on his head
and his hair tumbled forward over a face of bronze. Then they had
come to know each other. He used to meet her outside the Stores
every evening and see her home. He took her to see The Bohemian
Girl and she felt elated as she sat in an unaccustomed part of the
theatre with him. He was awfully fond of music and sang a little.
People knew that they were courting and, when he sang about the
lass that loves a sailor, she always felt pleasantly confused. He
used to call her Poppens out of fun. First of all it had been an
excitement for her to have a fellow and then she had begun to like
him. He had tales of distant countries. He had started as a deck boy
at a pound a month on a ship of the Allan Line going out to
Canada. He told her the names of the ships he had been on and the
names of the different services. He had sailed through the Straits
of Magellan and he told her stories of the terrible Patagonians. He
had fallen on his feet in Buenos Ayres, he said, and had come over
to the old country just for a holiday. Of course, her father had
found out the affair and had forbidden her to have anything to say
"I know these sailor chaps," he said.
One day he had quarrelled with Frank and after that she had to
meet her lover secretly.
The evening deepened in the avenue. The white of two letters in
her lap grew indistinct. One was to Harry; the other was to her
father. Ernest had been her favourite but she liked Harry too. Her
father was becoming old lately, she noticed; he would miss her.
Sometimes he could be very nice. Not long before, when she had
been laid up for a day, he had read her out a ghost story and made
toast for her at the fire. Another day, when their mother was alive,
they had all gone for a picnic to the Hill of Howth. She
remembered her father putting on her mothers bonnet to make the
Her time was running out but she continued to sit by the window,
leaning her head against the window curtain, inhaling the odour of
dusty cretonne. Down far in the avenue she could hear a street
organ playing. She knew the air Strange that it should come that
very night to remind her of the promise to her mother, her promise
to keep the home together as long as she could. She remembered
the last night of her mother's illness; she was again in the close
dark room at the other side of the hall and outside she heard a
melancholy air of Italy. The organ-player had been ordered to go
away and given sixpence. She remembered her father strutting
back into the sickroom saying:
"Damned Italians! coming over here!"
As she mused the pitiful vision of her mother's life laid its spell on
the very quick of her being--that life of commonplace sacrifices
closing in final craziness. She trembled as she heard again her
mother's voice saying constantly with foolish insistence:
"Derevaun Seraun! Derevaun Seraun!"
She stood up in a sudden impulse of terror. Escape! She must
escape! Frank would save her. He would give her life, perhaps
love, too. But she wanted to live. Why should she be unhappy? She
had a right to happiness. Frank would take her in his arms, fold her
in his arms. He would save her.
She stood among the swaying crowd in the station at the North
Wall. He held her hand and she knew that he was speaking to her,
saying something about the passage over and over again. The
station was full of soldiers with brown baggages. Through the wide
doors of the sheds she caught a glimpse of the black mass of the
boat, lying in beside the quay wall, with illumined portholes. She
answered nothing. She felt her cheek pale and cold and, out of a
maze of distress, she prayed to God to direct her, to show her what
was her duty. The boat blew a long mournful whistle into the mist.
If she went, tomorrow she would be on the sea with Frank,
steaming towards Buenos Ayres. Their passage had been booked.
Could she still draw back after all he had done for her? Her
distress awoke a nausea in her body and she kept moving her lips
in silent fervent prayer.
A bell clanged upon her heart. She felt him seize her hand:
All the seas of the world tumbled about her heart. He was drawing
her into them: he would drown her. She gripped with both hands at
the iron railing.
No! No! No! It was impossible. Her hands clutched the iron in
frenzy. Amid the seas she sent a cry of anguish.
He rushed beyond the barrier and called to her to follow. He was
shouted at to go on but he still called to her. She set her white face
to him, passive, like a helpless animal. Her eyes gave him no sign
of love or farewell or recognition.