Dah Duit (Hi) and welcome


IT WAS Joe Dillon who introduced the Wild West to us. He had a little
library made up of old numbers of The Union Jack, Pluck and The
Halfpenny Marvel. Every evening after school we met in his back garden
and arranged Indian battles. He and his fat young brother Leo, the
idler, held the loft of the stable while we tried to carry it by storm;
or we fought a pitched battle on the grass. But, however well we fought,
we never won siege or battle and all our bouts ended with Joe Dillon's
war dance of victory. His parents went to eight-o'clock mass every
morning in Gardiner Street and the peaceful odour of Mrs. Dillon was
prevalent in the hall of the house. But he played too fiercely for us
who were younger and more timid. He looked like some kind of an Indian
when he capered round the garden, an old tea-cosy on his head, beating a
tin with his fist and yelling:

"Ya! yaka, yaka, yaka!"

Everyone was incredulous when it was reported that he had a vocation for
the priesthood. Nevertheless it was true.

A spirit of unruliness diffused itself among us and, under its
influence, differences of culture and constitution were waived. We
banded ourselves together, some boldly, some in jest and some almost in
fear: and of the number of these latter, the reluctant Indians who
were afraid to seem studious or lacking in robustness, I was one. The
adventures related in the literature of the Wild West were remote from
my nature but, at least, they opened doors of escape. I liked better
some American detective stories which were traversed from time to time
by unkempt fierce and beautiful girls. Though there was nothing wrong
in these stories and though their intention was sometimes literary
they were circulated secretly at school. One day when Father Butler was
hearing the four pages of Roman History clumsy Leo Dillon was discovered
with a copy of The Halfpenny Marvel.

"This page or this page? This page Now, Dillon, up! 'Hardly had the
day'... Go on! What day? 'Hardly had the day dawned'... Have you studied
it? What have you there in your pocket?"

Everyone's heart palpitated as Leo Dillon handed up the paper and
everyone assumed an innocent face. Father Butler turned over the pages,

"What is this rubbish?" he said. "The Apache Chief! Is this what you
read instead of studying your Roman History? Let me not find any more
of this wretched stuff in this college. The man who wrote it, I suppose,
was some wretched fellow who writes these things for a drink. I'm
surprised at boys like you, educated, reading such stuff. I could
understand it if you were... National School boys. Now, Dillon, I advise
you strongly, get at your work or..."

This rebuke during the sober hours of school paled much of the glory of
the Wild West for me and the confused puffy face of Leo Dillon awakened
one of my consciences. But when the restraining influence of the school
was at a distance I began to hunger again for wild sensations, for the
escape which those chronicles of disorder alone seemed to offer me. The
mimic warfare of the evening became at last as wearisome to me as the
routine of school in the morning because I wanted real adventures to
happen to myself. But real adventures, I reflected, do not happen to
people who remain at home: they must be sought abroad.

The summer holidays were near at hand when I made up my mind to break
out of the weariness of school-life for one day at least. With Leo Dillon
and a boy named Mahony I planned a day's miching. Each of us saved up
sixpence. We were to meet at ten in the morning on the Canal Bridge.
Mahony's big sister was to write an excuse for him and Leo Dillon was to
tell his brother to say he was sick. We arranged to go along the Wharf
Road until we came to the ships, then to cross in the ferryboat and walk
out to see the Pigeon House. Leo Dillon was afraid we might meet Father
Butler or someone out of the college; but Mahony asked, very sensibly,
what would Father Butler be doing out at the Pigeon House. We were
reassured: and I brought the first stage of the plot to an end by
collecting sixpence from the other two, at the same time showing them
my own sixpence. When we were making the last arrangements on the eve we
were all vaguely excited. We shook hands, laughing, and Mahony said:

"Till tomorrow, mates!"

That night I slept badly. In the morning I was first-comer to the bridge
as I lived nearest. I hid my books in the long grass near the ashpit at
the end of the garden where nobody ever came and hurried along the canal
bank. It was a mild sunny morning in the first week of June. I sat up
on the coping of the bridge admiring my frail canvas shoes which I had
diligently pipeclayed overnight and watching the docile horses pulling
a tramload of business people up the hill. All the branches of the tall
trees which lined the mall were gay with little light green leaves and
the sunlight slanted through them on to the water. The granite stone of
the bridge was beginning to be warm and I began to pat it with my hands
in time to an air in my head. I was very happy.

When I had been sitting there for five or ten minutes I saw Mahony's
grey suit approaching. He came up the hill, smiling, and clambered
up beside me on the bridge. While we were waiting he brought out
the catapult which bulged from his inner pocket and explained some
improvements which he had made in it. I asked him why he had brought it
and he told me he had brought it to have some gas with the birds. Mahony
used slang freely, and spoke of Father Butler as Old Bunser. We waited
on for a quarter of an hour more but still there was no sign of Leo
Dillon. Mahony, at last, jumped down and said:

"Come along. I knew Fatty'd funk it."

"And his sixpence...?" I said.

"That's forfeit," said Mahony. "And so much the better for us--a bob and
a tanner instead of a bob."

We walked along the North Strand Road till we came to the Vitriol Works
and then turned to the right along the Wharf Road. Mahony began to play
the Indian as soon as we were out of public sight. He chased a crowd
of ragged girls, brandishing his unloaded catapult and, when two ragged
boys began, out of chivalry, to fling stones at us, he proposed that we
should charge them. I objected that the boys were too small and so we
walked on, the ragged troop screaming after us: "Swaddlers!
Swaddlers!" thinking that we were Protestants because Mahony, who was
dark-complexioned, wore the silver badge of a cricket club in his cap.
When we came to the Smoothing Iron we arranged a siege; but it was a
failure because you must have at least three. We revenged ourselves on
Leo Dillon by saying what a funk he was and guessing how many he would
get at three o'clock from Mr. Ryan.

We came then near the river. We spent a long time walking about the
noisy streets flanked by high stone walls, watching the working of
cranes and engines and often being shouted at for our immobility by the
drivers of groaning carts. It was noon when we reached the quays and, as
all the labourers seemed to be eating their lunches, we bought two big
currant buns and sat down to eat them on some metal piping beside the
river. We pleased ourselves with the spectacle of Dublin's commerce--the
barges signalled from far away by their curls of woolly smoke, the brown
fishing fleet beyond Ringsend, the big white sailing-vessel which was
being discharged on the opposite quay. Mahony said it would be right
skit to run away to sea on one of those big ships and even I, looking at
the high masts, saw, or imagined, the geography which had been scantily
dosed to me at school gradually taking substance under my eyes. School
and home seemed to recede from us and their influences upon us seemed to

We crossed the Liffey in the ferryboat, paying our toll to be
transported in the company of two labourers and a little Jew with a bag.
We were serious to the point of solemnity, but once during the short
voyage our eyes met and we laughed. When we landed we watched the
discharging of the graceful threemaster which we had observed from the
other quay. Some bystander said that she was a Norwegian vessel. I went
to the stern and tried to decipher the legend upon it but, failing to do
so, I came back and examined the foreign sailors to see had any of them
green eyes for I had some confused notion.... The sailors' eyes were
blue and grey and even black. The only sailor whose eyes could have been
called green was a tall man who amused the crowd on the quay by calling
out cheerfully every time the planks fell:

"All right! All right!"

When we were tired of this sight we wandered slowly into Ringsend. The
day had grown sultry, and in the windows of the grocers' shops musty
biscuits lay bleaching. We bought some biscuits and chocolate which
we ate sedulously as we wandered through the squalid streets where the
families of the fishermen live. We could find no dairy and so we went
into a huckster's shop and bought a bottle of raspberry lemonade each.
Refreshed by this, Mahony chased a cat down a lane, but the cat escaped
into a wide field. We both felt rather tired and when we reached the
field we made at once for a sloping bank over the ridge of which we
could see the Dodder.

It was too late and we were too tired to carry out our project of
visiting the Pigeon House. We had to be home before four o'clock lest
our adventure should be discovered. Mahony looked regretfully at his
catapult and I had to suggest going home by train before he regained
any cheerfulness. The sun went in behind some clouds and left us to our
jaded thoughts and the crumbs of our provisions.

There was nobody but ourselves in the field. When we had lain on the
bank for some time without speaking I saw a man approaching from the far
end of the field. I watched him lazily as I chewed one of those green
stems on which girls tell fortunes. He came along by the bank slowly. He
walked with one hand upon his hip and in the other hand he held a stick
with which he tapped the turf lightly. He was shabbily dressed in a suit
of greenish-black and wore what we used to call a jerry hat with a high
crown. He seemed to be fairly old for his moustache was ashen-grey. When
he passed at our feet he glanced up at us quickly and then continued his
way. We followed him with our eyes and saw that when he had gone on for
perhaps fifty paces he turned about and began to retrace his steps. He
walked towards us very slowly, always tapping the ground with his stick,
so slowly that I thought he was looking for something in the grass.

He stopped when he came level with us and bade us good-day. We answered
him and he sat down beside us on the slope slowly and with great care.
He began to talk of the weather, saying that it would be a very hot
summer and adding that the seasons had changed greatly since he was a
boy--a long time ago. He said that the happiest time of one's life was
undoubtedly one's school-boy days and that he would give anything to be
young again. While he expressed these sentiments which bored us a little
we kept silent. Then he began to talk of school and of books. He asked
us whether we had read the poetry of Thomas Moore or the works of Sir
Walter Scott and Lord Lytton. I pretended that I had read every book he
mentioned so that in the end he said:

"Ah, I can see you are a bookworm like myself. Now," he added, pointing
to Mahony who was regarding us with open eyes, "he is different; he goes
in for games."

He said he had all Sir Walter Scott's works and all Lord Lytton's works
at home and never tired of reading them. "Of course," he said, "there
were some of Lord Lytton's works which boys couldn't read." Mahony asked
why couldn't boys read them--a question which agitated and pained me
because I was afraid the man would think I was as stupid as Mahony. The
man, however, only smiled. I saw that he had great gaps in his mouth
between his yellow teeth. Then he asked us which of us had the most
sweethearts. Mahony mentioned lightly that he had three totties. The man
asked me how many had I. I answered that I had none. He did not believe
me and said he was sure I must have one. I was silent.

"Tell us," said Mahony pertly to the man, "how many have you yourself?"

The man smiled as before and said that when he was our age he had lots
of sweethearts.

"Every boy," he said, "has a little sweetheart."

His attitude on this point struck me as strangely liberal in a man
of his age. In my heart I thought that what he said about boys and
sweethearts was reasonable. But I disliked the words in his mouth and I
wondered why he shivered once or twice as if he feared something or felt
a sudden chill. As he proceeded I noticed that his accent was good. He
began to speak to us about girls, saying what nice soft hair they had
and how soft their hands were and how all girls were not so good as they
seemed to be if one only knew. There was nothing he liked, he said, so
much as looking at a nice young girl, at her nice white hands and her
beautiful soft hair. He gave me the impression that he was repeating
something which he had learned by heart or that, magnetised by some
words of his own speech, his mind was slowly circling round and round in
the same orbit. At times he spoke as if he were simply alluding to some
fact that everybody knew, and at times he lowered his voice and spoke
mysteriously as if he were telling us something secret which he did not
wish others to overhear. He repeated his phrases over and over again,
varying them and surrounding them with his monotonous voice. I continued
to gaze towards the foot of the slope, listening to him.

After a long while his monologue paused. He stood up slowly, saying
that he had to leave us for a minute or so, a few minutes, and, without
changing the direction of my gaze, I saw him walking slowly away from us
towards the near end of the field. We remained silent when he had gone.
After a silence of a few minutes I heard Mahony exclaim:

"I say! Look what he's doing!"

As I neither answered nor raised my eyes Mahony exclaimed again:

"I say... He's a queer old josser!"

"In case he asks us for our names," I said, "let you be Murphy and I'll
be Smith."

We said nothing further to each other. I was still considering whether
I would go away or not when the man came back and sat down beside us
again. Hardly had he sat down when Mahony, catching sight of the cat
which had escaped him, sprang up and pursued her across the field. The
man and I watched the chase. The cat escaped once more and Mahony began
to throw stones at the wall she had escaladed. Desisting from this, he
began to wander about the far end of the field, aimlessly.

After an interval the man spoke to me. He said that my friend was a very
rough boy and asked did he get whipped often at school. I was going to
reply indignantly that we were not National School boys to be whipped,
as he called it; but I remained silent. He began to speak on the subject
of chastising boys. His mind, as if magnetised again by his speech,
seemed to circle slowly round and round its new centre. He said that
when boys were that kind they ought to be whipped and well whipped. When
a boy was rough and unruly there was nothing would do him any good but a
good sound whipping. A slap on the hand or a box on the ear was no good:
what he wanted was to get a nice warm whipping. I was surprised at this
sentiment and involuntarily glanced up at his face. As I did so I met
the gaze of a pair of bottle-green eyes peering at me from under a
twitching forehead. I turned my eyes away again.

The man continued his monologue. He seemed to have forgotten his recent
liberalism. He said that if ever he found a boy talking to girls or
having a girl for a sweetheart he would whip him and whip him; and that
would teach him not to be talking to girls. And if a boy had a girl
for a sweetheart and told lies about it then he would give him such
a whipping as no boy ever got in this world. He said that there was
nothing in this world he would like so well as that. He described to
me how he would whip such a boy as if he were unfolding some elaborate
mystery. He would love that, he said, better than anything in this
world; and his voice, as he led me monotonously through the mystery,
grew almost affectionate and seemed to plead with me that I should
understand him.

I waited till his monologue paused again. Then I stood up abruptly. Lest
I should betray my agitation I delayed a few moments pretending to fix
my shoe properly and then, saying that I was obliged to go, I bade him
good-day. I went up the slope calmly but my heart was beating quickly
with fear that he would seize me by the ankles. When I reached the top
of the slope I turned round and, without looking at him, called loudly
across the field:


My voice had an accent of forced bravery in it and I was ashamed of my
paltry stratagem. I had to call the name again before Mahony saw me
and hallooed in answer. How my heart beat as he came running across the
field to me! He ran as if to bring me aid. And I was penitent; for in my
heart I had always despised him a little.