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The Boarding House
MRS. MOONEY was a butcher's daughter. She was a woman who was quite able to
keep things to herself: a determined woman. She had married her father's foreman and
opened a butcher's shop near Spring Gardens. But as soon as his father-in-law was
dead Mr. Mooney began to go to the devil. He drank, plundered the till, ran headlong
into debt. It was no use making him take the pledge: he was sure to break out again a
few days after. By fighting his wife in the presence of customers and by buying bad
meat he ruined his business. One night he went for his wife with the cleaver and she
had to sleep a neighbour's house.
After that they lived apart. She went to the priest and got a separation from him with
care of the children. She would give him neither money nor food nor house-room; and
so he was obliged to enlist himself as a sheriff's man. He was a shabby stooped little
drunkard with a white face and a white moustache white eyebrows, pencilled above his
little eyes, which were veined and raw; and all day long he sat in the bailiff's room,
waiting to be put on a job. Mrs. Mooney, who had taken what remained of her money
out of the butcher business and set up a boarding house in Hardwicke Street, was a big
imposing woman. Her house had a floating population made up of tourists from
Liverpool and the Isle of Man and, occasionally, artistes from the music halls. Its
resident population was made up of clerks from the city. She governed the house
cunningly and firmly, knew when to give credit, when to be stern and when to let things
pass. All the resident young men spoke of her as The Madam.
Mrs. Mooney's young men paid fifteen shillings a week for board and lodgings (beer or
stout at dinner excluded). They shared in common tastes and occupations and for this
reason they were very chummy with one another. They discussed with one another the
chances of favourites and outsiders. Jack Mooney, the Madam's son, who was clerk to
a commission agent in Fleet Street, had the reputation of being a hard case. He was
fond of using soldiers' obscenities: usually he came home in the small hours. When he
met his friends he had always a good one to tell them and he was always sure to be on
to a good thing-that is to say, a likely horse or a likely artiste. He was also handy with
the mits and sang comic songs. On Sunday nights there would often be a reunion in
Mrs. Mooney's front drawing-room. The music-hall artistes would oblige; and Sheridan
played waltzes and polkas and vamped accompaniments. Polly Mooney, the Madam's
daughter, would also sing. She sang:
You know I am.
Polly was a slim girl of nineteen; she had light soft hair and a small full mouth. Her eyes,
which were grey with a shade of green through them, had a habit of glancing upwards
when she spoke with anyone, which made her look like a little perverse madonna. Mrs.