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.