Araby by James Joyce

Araby by James JoyceNorth 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 Communicant, 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.
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Her image accompanied me even in places the most hostile to romance. On Saturday
evenings when my aunt went marketing I had to go to carry some of the parcels. We
walked through the flaring streets, jostled by drunken men and bargaining women, amid
the curses of labourers, the shrill litanies of shop-boys who stood on guard by the barrels
of pigs’ cheeks, the nasal chanting of street-singers, who sang a come-all-you about
O’Donovan Rossa, or a ballad about the troubles in our native land. These noises
converged in a single sensation of life for me: I imagined that I bore my chalice safely
through a throng of foes. Her name sprang to my lips at moments in strange prayers and
praises which I myself did not understand. My eyes were often full of tears (I could not
tell why) and at times a flood from my heart seemed to pour itself out into my bosom. I
thought little of the future. I did not know whether I would ever speak to her or not or, if I
spoke to her, how I could tell her of my confused adoration. But my body was like a harp
and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires.
One evening I went into the back drawing-room in which the priest had died. It was a
dark rainy evening and there was no sound in the house. Through one of the broken panes
I heard the rain impinge upon the earth, the fine incessant needles of water playing in the
sodden beds. Some distant lamp or lighted window gleamed below me. I was thankful
that I could see so little. All my senses seemed to desire to veil themselves and, feeling
that I was about to slip from them, I pressed the palms of my hands together until they
trembled, murmuring: `O love! O love!’ many times.
At last she spoke to me. When she addressed the first words to me I was so confused that
I did not know what to answer. She asked me was I going to Araby. I forgot whether I
answered yes or no. It would be a splendid bazaar; she said she would love to go.
`And why can’t you?’ I asked.
While she spoke she turned a silver bracelet round and round her wrist. She could not go,
she said, because there would be a retreat that week in her convent. Her brother and two
other boys were fighting for their caps, and I was alone at the railings. She held one of the
spikes, bowing her head towards me. The light from the lamp opposite our door caught
the white curve of her neck, lit up her hair that rested there and, falling, lit up the hand
upon the railing. It fell over one side of her dress and caught the white border of a
petticoat, just visible as she stood at ease.
`It’s well for you,’ she said.
`If I go,’ I said, `I will bring you something.’
What innumerable follies laid waste my waking and sleeping thoughts after that evening!
I wished to annihilate the tedious intervening days. I chafed against the work of school.
At night in my bedroom and by day in the classroom her image came between me and the
page I strove to read. The syllables of the word Araby were called to me through the
silence in which my soul luxuriated and cast an Eastern enchantment over me. I asked for
leave to go to the bazaar on Saturday night. My aunt was surprised, and hoped it was not
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some Freemason affair. I answered few questions in class. I watched my master’s face
pass from amiability to sternness; he hoped I was not beginning to idle. I could not call
my wandering thoughts together. I had hardly any patience with the serious work of life
which, now that it stood between me and my desire, seemed to me child’s play, ugly
monotonous child’s play.
On Saturday morning I reminded my uncle that I wished to go to the bazaar in the
evening. He was fussing at the hallstand, looking for the hat-brush, and answered me
curtly:
`Yes, boy, I know.’
As he was in the hall I could not go into the front parlour and lie at the window. I felt the
house in bad humour and walked slowly towards the school. The air was pitilessly raw
and already my heart misgave me.
When I came home to dinner my uncle had not yet been home. Still it was early. I sat
staring at the clock for some time and, when its ticking began to irritate me, I left the
room. I mounted the staircase and gained the upper part of the house. The high, cold,
empty, gloomy rooms liberated me and I went from room to room singing. From the front
window I saw my companions playing below in the street. Their cries reached me
weakened and indistinct and, leaning my forehead against the cool glass, I looked over at
the dark house where she lived. I may have stood there for an hour, seeing nothing but
the brown-clad figure cast by my imagination, touched discreetly by the lamplight at the
curved neck, at the hand upon the railings and at the border below the dress.
When I came downstairs again I found Mrs Mercer sitting at the fire. She was an old,
garrulous woman, a pawnbroker’s widow, who collected used stamps for some pious
purpose. I had to endure the gossip of the tea-table. The meal was prolonged beyond an
hour and still my uncle did not come. Mrs Mercer stood up to go: she was sorry she
couldn’t wait any longer, but it was after eight o’clock and she did not like to be out late,
as the night air was bad for her. When she had gone I began to walk up and down the
room, clenching my fists. My aunt said:
`I’m afraid you may put off your bazaar for this night of Our Lord.’
At nine o’clock I heard my uncle’s latchkey in the hall door. I heard him talking to
himself and heard the hallstand rocking when it had received the weight of his overcoat. I
could interpret these signs. When he was midway through his dinner I asked him to give
me the money to go to the bazaar. He had forgotten.
`The people are in bed and after their first sleep now,’ he said.
I did not smile. My aunt said to him energetically:
`Can’t you give him the money and let him go? You’ve kept him late enough as it is.’
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My uncle said he was very sorry he had forgotten. He said he believed in the old saying:
`All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.’ He asked me where I was going and, when
I told him a second time, he asked me did I know The Arab’s Farewell to his Steed. When
I left the kitchen he was about to recite the opening lines of the piece to my aunt.
I held a florin tightly in my hand as I strode down Buckingham Street towards the station.
The sight of the streets thronged with buyers and glaring with gas recalled to me the
purpose of my journey. I took my seat in a third-class carriage of a deserted train. After
an intolerable delay the train moved out of the station slowly. It crept onward among
ruinous houses and over the twinkling river. At Westland Row Station a crowd of people
pressed to the carriage doors; but the porters moved them back, saying that it was a
special train for the bazaar. I remained alone in the bare carriage. In a few minutes the
train drew up beside an improvised wooden platform. I passed out on to the road and saw
by the lighted dial of a clock that it was ten minutes to ten. In front of me was a large
building which displayed the magical name.
I could not find any sixpenny entrance and, fearing that the bazaar would be closed, I
passed in quickly through a turnstile, handing a shilling to a weary-looking man. I found
myself in a big hall girded at half its height by a gallery. Nearly all the stalls were closed
and the greater part of the hall was in darkness. I recognized a silence like that which
pervades a church after a service. I walked into the centre of the bazaar timidly. A few
people were gathered about the stalls which were still open. Before a curtain, over which
the words Café Chantant were written in coloured lamps, two men were counting money
on a salver. I listened to the fall of the coins.
Remembering with difficulty why I had come, I went over to one of the stalls and
examined porcelain vases and flowered tea-sets. At the door of the stall a young lady was
talking and laughing with two young gentlemen. I remarked their English accents and
listened vaguely to their conversation.
`O, I never said such a thing!’
`O, but you did!’
`O, but I didn’t!’
`Didn’t she say that?’
`Yes. I heard her.’
`O, there’s a… fib!’
Observing me, the young lady came over and asked me did I wish to buy anything. The
tone of her voice was not encouraging; she seemed to have spoken to me out of a sense of
duty. I looked humbly at the great jars that stood like eastern guards at either side of the
dark entrance to the stall and murmured:
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`No, thank you.’
The young lady changed the position of one of the vases and went back to the two young
men. They began to talk of the same subject. Once or twice the young lady glanced at me
over her shoulder.
I lingered before her stall, though I knew my stay was useless, to make my interest in her
wares seem the more real. Then I turned away slowly and walked down the middle of the
bazaar. I allowed the two pennies to fall against the sixpence in my pocket. I heard a
voice call from one end of the gallery that the light was out. The upper part of the hall
was now completely dark.
Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and
my eyes burned with anguish and anger.

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