Dunn bowler hat
Bowler Hat, Dunn & Co, The Strand, London
Chapter 1 — Section 2
Pages 14-2519-299-20
POVMr Mack
Whereup to Ballygihen House, back to Macks' home
WhenWednesday late morning, May 5 1915
... little Fenianeen in our midst

Parcel safe and under his arm, Mr. Mack made his way along the parade of shops. At the tramstop he looked into Phillips’s ironmongers. “Any sign of that delivery?”

“Expected” was all the answer he got.

Constable now. Sees me carrying the Irish Times. Respectable nod. Little Fenianeen in our midst and I never knew. After hacking at a recruitment poster. Mind, ’tis pranks not politics. Pass a law against khaki, you’d have them queueing up to enlist.

The shops ended and Glasthule Road took on a more dignified, prosperous air. With every step he counted the rateable values rising, ascending on a gradient equivalent to the road’s rise to Ballygihen. Well-tended gardens and at every lane a kinder breeze off the sea. In the sun atop a wall a fat cat sat whose head followed wisely his progress.

General, he calls me. Jocular touch that. After the General Stores, of course. Shocks and stares—should send that in the paper. Pay for items catchy like that. Or did I hear it before? Would want to be sure before committing to paper. Make a donkey of yourself else.

changed image
... mum-mim-mom
Renoir, "Landscape with Mimosas", 1912

A scent drifted by that was utterly familiar yet unspeakably far away. He leant over a garden wall and there it blew, ferny-leaved and tiny-flowered, in its sunny yellow corner. Never had thought it would prosper here. Mum-mim-mom, begins with something mum. Butterfly floating over it, a pale white soul, first I’ve seen of the year.

Royal Dublin Fusiliers 1890
... Mick and Mack the paddy whacks
Two fusiliers of the RDF, 1890
gonzales bugler
... bugler boy was pal of his
Eva Gonzalès, "Enfant de Troupe", 1870

Pall of his face back there. They do say they take on worse in the sunshine, your consumptives do. Segotia: is it some class of a flower? I never thought to inquire. Pal of me heart. Well, we’re talking twenty thirty years back. Mick and Mack the paddy whacks. We had our day, ’tis true. Boys together and bugles together and bayonets in the ranks. Rang like bells, all we wanted was hanging. But there’s no pals except you’re equals. I learnt me that after I got my very first stripe.

He looked back down the road at the dwindling man with his lonely stand of papers. A Dublin tram came by. In the clattering of its wheels and its sparking trolley the years dizzied a moment. Scarlet and blue swirled in the dust, till there he stood, flush before him, in the light of bright and other days, the bugler boy was pal of his heart. My old segotia.

Parcel safe? Under me arm.

The paper unfolded in Mr. Mack’s hands and his eyes glanced over the front page. Hotels, hotels, hotels. Hatches, matches, dispatches. Eye always drawn to “Loans by Post.” Don’t know for why. What’s this the difference is between a stock and a share? Have to ask Jim when he gets in from school.

He turned the page. Here we go. Royal Dublin Fusiliers depot. Comforts Fund for the Troops in France. Committee gratefully acknowledges. Here we go. Madame MacMurrough, Ballygihen branch. Socks, woollen, three doz pair.

Gets her name in cosy enough. Madame MacMurrough. Once a month I fetch over the stockings, once a month she has her name in the paper. Handy enough if you can get it.

Nice to know they’re delivered, all the same, delivered where they’re wanted.

His eyes wandered to the Roll of Honour that ran along the paper’s edge. Officers killed, officers wounded, wounded and missing, wounded believed prisoners, correction: officers killed. All officers. Column, column and a half of officers. Then there’s only a handful of other ranks. Now that can’t be right. How do they choose them? Do you have to—is that what I’d have to do?—submit the name yourself? And do they charge for that? Mind you, nice to have your name in the Irish Times. That’s what I’ll have to do maybe, should Gordie—God forbid, what was he saying? God forbid, not anything happen to Gordie. Touch wood. Not wood, scapular. Where am I?

There, he’d missed his turn. That was foolish. Comes from borrowing trouble. And it was an extravagance in the first place to be purchasing an Irish Times. Penny for the paper, a bob for that drunk—Jacobs! I didn’t even get me two dee change. One and thruppenny walk in all. Might have waited for the Evening Mail and got me news for a ha’penny.

However, his name was Mr. Mack, and as everyone knew, or had ought know by now, the Macks was on the up.

The gates to Madame MacMurrough’s were open and he peered up the avenue of straggling sycamores to the veiled face of Ballygihen House. A grand lady she was to be sure, though her trees, it had to be said, could do with a clipping.

He did not enter by the gates, but turned down Ballygihen Avenue beside. He had come out in a sweat, beads were trickling down the spine of his shirt, the wet patch stuck where his braces crossed. He mended his pace to catch his breath. At the door in the wall he stopped. Mopped his forehead and neck with his handkerchief, took off his hat and swabbed inside. Carefully stroked its brim where his fingers might have disturbed the nap. Replaced it. Size too small. Would never believe your head would grow. Or had the hat shrunk on him? Dunn’s three-and-ninepenny bowler? No, his hat had never shrunk. He brushed both boots against the calves of his trousers. Parcel safe? Then he pushed inside the tradesmen’s gate.

petticoats 1895
... put you in mnd of, ahem
"Mimosa" from JJ Grandville, "Les Fleurs Animées", 1847

Brambly path through shadowy wood. Birds singing on all sides. Mess of nettles, cow-parsley, could take a scythe to them. Light green frilly leaves would put you in mind of, ahem, petticoats. A blackbird scuttled off the path like a schoolboy caught at a caper. Then he was out in the light, and the lawns of Ballygihen House stretched leisurely to the sea. The sea oh the sea, long may it be. What a magnificent house it was, view and vantage them both, for its windows commanded the breadth of Dublin Bay. If he had this house what wouldn’t he do but sit upon its sloping lawns while all day long the mailboats to’d and fro’d.

scullery maid
scullery maid, 1870s

Mr. Mack shook his head, but not disconsolately; for the beauty of the scene, briefly borrowed and duly returned, would brighten the sorrow of a saint. He followed the path by the trees, careful of stepping on the grass, till he came into the shadow of the house where the area steps led down to the kitchens.

And who was it only Madame MacMurrough’s slavey showing leg at the step. Bit late in the morning to be still at her scrubbing. From Athlone, I believe, a district I know nothing about, save that it lies at the heart of Ireland.

He leant over the railing. “You’re after missing a spot, Nancy.”

The girl looked up. “’Tis you, Mr. Mack. And I thought it was the butcher’s boy after giving me cheek.”

She thought it was the butcher’s—Mr. Mack hawked his throat. “Julian weather we’re having.”

She pulled the hair out of her eyes. “Julian, Mr. Mack?”

“Julian. Pertaining to the month of July. It’s from the Latin.”

“But ’tis scarce May.”

“Well, I know that, Nancy. I meant ’tis July-like weather. Warm.” She stood up, skirts covering her shins. Something masonic about her smile. “Any news from Gordie, Mr. Mack?”

Mr. Mack peered over her shoulder looking to see was there anyone of consequence about. “Gordie?” he repeated. “You must mean Gordon, my son Gordon.”

“No letters or anything in the post?”

“How kind of you, Nancy. But no, he’s away on final training. We don’t know the where, we don’t know the where to. Submarines, do you see. Troop movements is always secretive in times of war.”

“Ah sure he’s most like in England, round about Aldershot with the rest of the boys.”

No cook in evidence, no proper maid. Entire residence has the look of—“Aldershot? Why do you say Aldershot?”

“Do you know the place? Famous military town in Hampshire.”

“You oughtn’t be talking such things. Haven’t I just warned you about submarines?”

“In Ballygihen, Mr. Mack?”

“Matter a damn where.” He felt he had stamped his foot, so he patted his toes on the gravel and muttered, “Dang. Matter a dang, I meant.”

The breeze reblew the hair in her eyes. Slovenly the way she ties it. Has a simper cute as a cat. “Is there no person in authority here I might address my business to?”

“Sure we’re all alone in the big house together. If you wanted you could nip round the front and pull the bell. I’d let you in for the crack.”

... not altogether disconnected with the
WW1 propaganda poster

Flighty, divil-may-care minx of a slavey. Pity the man who—He pinched, pulling, one droop of his moustache. “I haven’t the time for your cod-acting now, Nancy. It so happens I’m here on a serious matter not altogether disconnected with the war effort itself. I don’t doubt your mistress left word I was due.”

She looked thoughtful a moment. “I misrecall your name being spoke, but there was mention of some fellow might be bringing socks. I was to dump them in the scullery and give him sixpence out of thank you.”

After the huffing and puffing and wagging his finger, in the end he had to let his parcel into her shiftless hands. She knew better by then to bring up the sixpence. He had tipped his scant farewell and was re-ascending the steps when she let out, “Still and all, Mr. Mack, it’s the desperate shame you wouldn’t know where your ownest son was stationed at.”

“A shame we all must put up with.”

“Sure wherever it is, he’ll be cutting a fine dash of a thing, I wouldn’t doubt it.”

WW1 Belgium poster
Recruitment poster, WW1

Slavey, he thought, proper name for a rough general. “Don’t let me disturb you further from your duty.”

“Good day, Mr. Mack. But remember now: all love does ever rightly show humanity our tenderness.”

All love does what? Foolish gigglepot. Should have told her, should have said, he’s gone to fight for King and Country and the rights of Catholic Belgium. Cutting a dash is for rakes and dandyprats. All love does ever what?

He sloped back down the road to Glasthule, his heart falling with the declining properties. Could that be true about the sixpence? It was a puzzle to know with rich folk. Maybe I might have held on to the stockings and fetched them over another day. Nothing like a face-to-face in getting to know the worth of a man. Or maybe the lady supposed I’d be too busy myself, would send a boy instead. Jim. She thought it was Jim I’d be sending. Jim, my son James. The sixpence was his consideration. Now that was mighty generous in Madame MacMurrough. Sixpence for that spit of a walk? There’s the gentry for you now. That shows the quality.

Quick look-see in the hand-me-down window. Now that’s new. Must tell Jim about that. A flute in Ducie’s window. Second thoughts, steer clear. Trouble enough with Gordie and the pledge-shop.

Brewery men at Fennelly’s. Mighty clatter they make. On purpose much of the time. Advertise their presence. Fine old Clydesdale eating at his bait-sack. They look after them well, give them that. Now here’s a wonder—paper stand deserted. Crowd of loafers holding up the corner.

A nipper-squeak across the road and his heart lifted for it was the boy out of the ironmonger’s to say the tram had passed, package ready for collection. He took the delivery, signed the entry-book, patting the boy’s head in lieu of gratuity, recrossed the street.

Sister Susie
Weston and Darewski, Sister Susie, sheet music, 1914
Michael Healy Dubliner
... loafers, chancers, shapers
Michael Healy (1873–1941), "Dubliner"

He was turning for home into Adelaide Road, named after—who’s this it’s named for again?—when Fennelly’s corner doors burst open and a ree-raw jollity spilt out in the street. “Sister Susie’s sewing shirts for soldiers,” they were singing. Except in their particular rendition it was socks she was knitting.

Quare fine day,” said one of the loafers outside. Another had the neck to call out Mr. Mack’s name.

Mr. Mack’s forefinger lifted vaguely hatwards. Corner of his eye he saw others making mouths at him. Loafers, chancers, shapers. Where were the authorities at all that they wouldn’t take them in charge? Fennelly had no licence for singing. And the Angelus bell not rung.

Package safe? Under me arm. Chickens clucking in the yards, three dogs mooching. What they need do, you see, is raise the dog license. That would put a stop to all this mooching. Raise the excise while they’re about it. Dung in the street and wisps of hay, sparrows everywhere in the quiet way.

The shop was on a corner of a lane that led to a row of humbler dwellings. He armed himself with a breath. The bell clinked when he pushed the door.

Incorrect to say a hush fell on the premises. They always spoke in whispers, Aunt Sawney and her guests. There she sat, behind the counter, Mrs. Tansy sat on the customers’ chair, they had another fetched in from the kitchen for Mrs. Rourke. Now if a customer came, he’d be hard put to make it to the till. Gloomy too. Why wouldn’t she leave the door wide? Gas only made it pokier in the daylight. Which was free.

“God bless all here.” He touched the font on the jamb. Dryish. Have to see to that. Blessed himself.

“Hello, Aunt Sawney. Ready whenever to take over the reins. Mrs. Rourke, how’s this the leg is today? I’m glad to see you about, Mrs. Tansy.”

Irish old woman smoking pipe
... Straits of Ballambangjan ahead
"Irish street merchant having a quiet smoke", Victorian postcard

New tin of snuff on the counter. Must remember to mark that down in the book. Impossible to keep tabs else. Straits of Ballambangjan ahead. “I wonder if I might just ... pardon me while I ... if you could maybe.” Manoeuvre safe between. Find harbour in the kitchen. Range stone cold, why wouldn’t she keep an eye on it? Poke head back inside an instant. “Range is out, Aunt Sawney, should your guests require some tea.”

Three snorts came in reply as each woman took a pinch of snuff.

He sat down at the kitchen table, laid the new package in front of him. His eyes gauged its contents, while he reached behind his neck to loosen the back-stud of his collar. He flexed his arms. Let me see, let me see. The boy at the ironmonger’s had dangled the package by the twine and he had a deal of difficulty undoing the knot. Keep the torn paper for them on tick.

WW1 appeal poster
Recruitment poster, WW1

And finally there they were. Bills, two gross, finest American paper, fine as rashers of wind, in Canon bold proclaiming:

Adelaide General Stores
Quality Goods At Honest Prices
Mr. A. Mack, Esqr.
Will Be Pleased To Assist In All Your Requirements
An Appeal To You!
One Shilling Per Guinea Spent Here
Will Comfort Our Troops In France!

Page was a touch cramped at the base so that the end line, “Proprietress: Sawney Burke,” had to be got in small print. Still, it was the motto that mattered, and that was a topper. Will comfort our troops in France. Appeal to the honour of the house.

Moustache. Touch it. Spot of something in the hairs. Egg, is it? Stuck.

Was I right all the same to leave it to honour only? Nothing about the pocket. How’s about this for the hookum?

Pounds, Shillings and Pence!
Why Not Buy Local And Save On Leather?

Appeal to the pocket of the house. Might better have had two orders made up. One for the swells, other for the smells.

Never mind the smells, the Macks is on the up.

Jim. What time is it? Home for his dinner at five after one. Gone twelve now. He could maybe deliver the startings in his dinner-hour, the leavings before his tea. Have I missed the Angelus so? How’s this I missed the Angelus?

Clink. That’s the door. Customer? No, exeunt two biddies. She’ll be in now, tidy away. Aunt Sawney, I’ve had these advertising-bills made up ... ? No, wait till they’re delivered first. Fate accomplished. Where’s that apron? Better see to the range. “Aunt Sawney, there you are. Must be puffed out after that stint. I’ll do shop now. You read the paper in your chair. We’ll soon have a feel of heat.”

Beamish kitchen range
"Kitchener" – kitchen range, Beamish Museum
General Lord Kitchener of Khartoum, GCB, KCMG, KP, GCIE, etc and so forth, born Ballylongford, County Kerry, Ireland

“Stay away from that kitchener,” she said.

“The range?” said Mr. Mack.

“That kitchener wants blacking.”

“The range?”

She was already on her knees. She had a new tin of Zebra black-lead with her. “Ye’ll have me hands in blisters. I left it go out since yesternight.”

Surely a touch uncivil to name a kitchen range after the hero who avenged Khartoum. “Did we finish that other tin of Zebra already? Right so, I’ll mark that down in the book. It’s best to keep tabs.”

“’Tis cold plate for dinner. And cold plate for tea.”

“Whatever you think is best, Aunt Sawney. But you’re not after forgetting it’s his birthday today?”

“I’m not after forgetting this kitchener wants blacking.” She damped a cloth in the black-lead tin, letting out a creak of coughing as she did so.

The door clinked. Customer. “I’ll be with you directly,” he called. Then, thoughtfully: “Not to trouble yourself, Aunt Sawney. I have a cake above out of Findlater’s. Sure what more could his boyship want? But no mention of birthdays till after his tea. We’ll have nothing brought off all day else.”

“I suppose and you got him them bills for his treat.”

grecian bend 1870s
"The Grecian Bend", US caricature, 1870s

Well, I’ll be sugared. How would she know about the bills? He watched her at her labour for a moment. Wiry woman with hair the colour of ash. The back tresses she wore in a small black cap which hung from her crown like an extra, maidenly, head of hair. Even kneeling she had a bend on her, what’s this they used call it, the Grecian bends. If you straightened her now, you’d be feared of her snapping. Cheeks like loose gullets, wag when vexed. When the teeth go, you see, the pouches collapse. Nose beaked, with dewdrop suspending. Not kin, thanks be to God, not I, save through the altar. Gordie and Jim are blood.

She coughed again, sending reverberations down her frame. Brown titus she calls it. Useless to correct her at her age. “I’ll leave the inside door pulled to in case you’d feel a chill from beyond. You’re only over the bronchitis.”

“Mrs. Tansy says the font wants filling.”

Gently Mr. Mack reminded her, “Mrs. Tansy is a ranting Methody.”

“She still has eyes to see.”

Why would anyone look into a font? he wondered as he poured the holy water. Suppose when you are that way, dig with the other foot that is, these things take on an interest, a mystery even, which all too often for ourselves, digging as it were with the right foot, which is to say the proper one, have lost—lost where I was heading for there.

edwardian woman driver
... tearaways they have at the

Cheeses, would you look at that motor the way it’s pitching up Glasthule. Tearaways they have at the wheel. Take your life in your hands every turn you take. Hold on now, I believe I recognize that motor-car. He blew on his moustache, considering. There’s a pucker idea: fonts for trams. Should send that in the paper. Never seen a font in a moving object. Would a bishop have one in his brougham for instance? Or is there maybe an injunction against fonts in anything not stationary? Should check the facts before committing to paper. There’s fellows ready to pounce, the least miscalculation.

ireland donkey turf
... donkey of yourself, buying the wrong

Nothing much in the street. Far away beyond the fields and the new red-bricked terraces rose the Dublin Mountains. Green grew to grey. Oats by reason the wet climatics. Clever the way the fields know to stop just where the hills begin. Turf then. They were down the other week trying to hock it on account the price of coal. Is there a season for turf, though? Make a donkey of yourself buying the wrong time of year.

Curls of smoke from the cottages nearby. Keeping the home fires burning. Back inside the shop. Clink, it’s only me. Font again, no wonder it dries up so. Trade a little slack. Always the same this time of day. Might give that counter a wipe-down. Bits of snuff and goodness knows. Time to finish a stocking before dinner? Wouldn’t it be grand now if Gordie would be wearing one of my stockings.

Where’s there a place to fix a new shelf? Need a display for maybe a quality range of teas. High-grown, tippy Darjeeling, cans of, please. That would fetch the carriage trade.

What’s this that Nancy one was on about, all love does ever what? Damn silly child. Holy show she made of his parade. Marching with Gordie in the ranks to the troopship. Son of mine stepping out with a slavey. Where’s the up in that?

darjeeling poster
poster by Scott Plumbe
postcard Irish grocer 1909
postcard "Irish Grocer", US, 1909

Here a shelf, there a shelf? Can smell it now, the wafting scents. Would madam take a seat while I weigh her requirements? None of your one-and-fourpence populars, but Assam and pekoe and souchong, and customers to match, and souchong and oolong and Assam and—

Peeping up at him, her dabs just nipping the counter, a little female bedouin with dirty face and half an apron on.

“Well, little lady? Why aren’t we at school today?”

“The ma sent me over for a saucer of jam.”

Beside the door Mr. Mack had fixed a makeshift sign. “One Shilling per Guinea Spent Here is a CREDIT to You!” He might better have saved the paper. “Ha’penny,” he said to the slum-rat.