|Araby- The Grand Oriental Fete|
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
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 Communicant, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
bazaar in the evening. He was fussing at the hallstand, looking for the
hat-brush, and answered me curtly:
at the window. I felt the house in bad humour and walked slowly towards
the school. The air was pitilessly raw and already my heart misgave me.
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 dress.
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:
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.
in the old saying: ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.’ He
asked me where I was going and, when I 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.
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 houses 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.
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 girded at
half its height by a gallery. Nearly all the stalls were closed and the
greater part of the hall was in darkness. I recognized 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 Café Chantant were written in coloured lamps, two men were counting money on a salver. I listened to the fall of the coins.
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
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:
to the two young men. They began to talk of the same subject. Once or
twice the young lady glanced at me over her shoulder.
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.