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THE matron had given her leave to go out as soon as the women's tea was over and
Maria looked forward to her evening out. The kitchen was spick and span: the cook said
you could see yourself in the big copper boilers. The fire was nice and bright and on one
of the side-tables were four very big barmbracks. These barmbracks seemed uncut; but
if you went closer you would see that they had been cut into long thick even slices and
were ready to be handed round at tea. Maria had cut them herself.
Maria was a very, very small person indeed but she had a very long nose and a very
long chin. She talked a little through her nose, always soothingly: "Yes, my dear," and
"No, my dear." She was always sent for when the women quarrelled Over their tubs and
always succeeded in making peace. One day the matron had said to her:
"Maria, you are a veritable peace-maker!"
And the sub-matron and two of the Board ladies had heard the compliment. And Ginger
Mooney was always saying what she wouldn't do to the dummy who had charge of the
irons if it wasn't for Maria. Everyone was so fond of Maria.
The women would have their tea at six o'clock and she would be able to get away
before seven. From Ballsbridge to the Pillar, twenty minutes; from the Pillar to
Drumcondra, twenty minutes; and twenty minutes to buy the things. She would be there
before eight. She took out her purse with the silver clasps and read again the words A
Present from Belfast. She was very fond of that purse because Joe had brought it to her
five years before when he and Alphy had gone to Belfast on a Whit-Monday trip. In the
purse were two half-crowns and some coppers. She would have five shillings clear after
paying tram fare. What a nice evening they would have, all the children singing! Only
she hoped that Joe wouldn't come in drunk. He was so different when he took any drink.
Often he had wanted her to go and live with them;-but she would have felt herself in the
way (though Joe's wife was ever so nice with her) and she had become accustomed to
the life of the laundry. Joe was a good fellow. She had nursed him and Alphy too; and
Joe used often say:
"Mamma is mamma but Maria is my proper mother."
After the break-up at home the boys had got her that position in the Dublin by Lamplight
laundry, and she liked it. She used to have such a bad opinion of Protestants but now
she thought they were very nice people, a little quiet and serious, but still very nice
people to live with. Then she had her plants in the conservatory and she liked looking
after them. She had lovely ferns and wax-plants and, whenever anyone came to visit
her, she always gave the visitor one or two slips from her conservatory. There was one