Ivy Day In The Committee Room
Old Jack raked the cinders together with a piece of cardboard and spread them judiciously over the whitening dome of coals. When the dome was thinly covered his face lapsed into darkness but, as he set himself to fan the fire again, his crouching shadow ascended the opposite wall and his face slowly re-emerged into light. It was an old man's face, very bony and hairy. The moist blue eyes blinked at the fire and the moist mouth fell open at times, munching once or twice mechanically when it closed. When the cinders had caught he laid the piece of cardboard against the wall, sighed and said:
`That's better now, Mr O'Connor.'
Mr O'Connor, a grey-haired young man, whose face was disfigured by many blotches and pimples, had just brought the tobacco for a cigarette into a shapely cylinder, but when spoken to he undid his handiwork meditatively. Then he began to roll the tobacco again meditatively and after a moment's thought decided to lick the paper.
`Did Mr Tierney say when he'd be back?' he asked in a husky falsetto.
`He didn't say.'
Mr O'Connor put his cigarette into his mouth and began to search his pockets. He took out a pack of thin pasteboard cards.
`I'll get you a match,' said the old man.
`Never mind, this'll do,' said Mr O'Connor.
He selected one of the cards and read what was printed on it:
ROYAL EXCHANGE WARD
Mr Richard J. Tierney, P.L.G., respectfully Solicits the favour of your vote and influence at the coming election in the Royal Exchange Ward.
Mr O'Connor had been engaged by Tierney's agent to canvass one part of the ward but, as the weather was inclement and his boots let in the wet, he spent a great part of the day sitting by the fire in the Committee Room in Wicklow Street with Jack, the old caretaker. They had been sitting thus since the short day had grown dark. It was the sixth of October, dismal and cold out of doors.
Mr O'Connor tore a strip off the card and, lighting it, lit his cigarette. As he did so the flame lit up a leaf of dark glossy ivy in the lapel of his coat. The old man watched him attentively and then, taking up the piece of cardboard again, began to fan the fire slowly while his companion smoked.
`Ah, yes,' he said, continuing, `it's hard to know what way to bring up children. Now who'd think he'd turn out like that! I sent him to the Christian Brothers and I done what I could for him, and there he goes boozing about. I tried to make him somewhat decent.'
He replaced the cardboard wearily.
`Only I'm an old man now I'd change his tune for him. I'd ta&e the stick to his back and beat him while I could stand over him — as I done many a time before. The mother you know, she cocks him up with this and that... '
`That's what ruins children,' said Mr O'Connor.
`To be sure it is,' said the old man. `And little thanks you get for it, only impudence. He takes th'upper hand of me whenever he sees I've a sup taken. What's the world coming to when sons speaks that way to their fathers?'
`What age is he?' said Mr O'Connor.
`Nineteen,' said the old man.
`Why don't you put him to something?'
`Sure, amn't I never done at the drunken bowsy ever since he left school? "I won't keep you," I says. "You must get a job for yourself." But, sure it's worse whenever he gets a job; he drinks it all.'
Mr O'Connor shook his head in sympathy, and the old man fell silent, gazing into the fire. Someone opened the door of the room and called out:
`Hello! Is this a Freemasons' meeting?'
`Who's that?' said the old man.
`What are you doing in the dark?' asked a voice.
`Is that you, Hynes?' asked Mr O'Connor.
`Yes. What are you doing in the dark?' Said Mr Hynes, advancing into the light of the fire.
He was a tall, Slender young man with a light brown moustache. Imminent little drops of rain hung at the brim of his hat and the collar of his jacket-coat was turned up.
`Well, Mat,' he said to Mr O'Connor, `how goes it?'
Mr O'Connor shook his head. The old man left the hearth, and after stumbling about the room returned with two candlesticks which he thrust one after the other into the fire and carried to the table. A denuded room came into view and the fire lost all its cheerful colour. The walls of the room were bare except for a copy of an election address. In the middle of the room was a small table on which papers were heaped.
Mr Hynes leaned against the mantelpiece and asked:
`Has he paid you yet?'
`Not yet,' said Mr O'Connor. `I hope to God he'll not leave us in the lurch tonight.'
Mr Hynes laughed.
`O, he'll pay you. Never fear,' he said.
`I hope he'll look smart about it if he means business,' said Mr O'Connor.
`What do you think, Jack?' said Mr Hynes satirically to the old man.
The old man returned to his seat by the fire, saying:
`It isn't but he has it, anyway. Not like the other tinker.'
`What other tinker?' said Mr Hynes.
`Colgan,' said the old man scornfully.
`It is because Colgan's a working-man you say that? What's the difference between a good honest bricklayer and a publican — eh? Hasn't the working-man as good a right to be in the Corporation as anyone else — ay, and a better right than those shoneens that are always hat in hand before any fellow with a handle to his name? Isn't that so, Mat?' said Mr Hynes, addressing Mr O'Connor.
`I think you're right,' said Mr O'Connor.
`One man is a plain honest man with no hunker-sliding about him. He goes in to represent the labour classes. This fellow you're working for only wants to get some job or other.'
`Of course, the working-classes should be represented,' said the old man.
`The working-man,' said Mr Hynes, `gets all kicks and no halfpence. But it's labour produces everything. The working-man is not looking for fat jobs for his sons and nephews and cousins. The working-man is not going to drag the honour of Dublin in the mud to please a German monarch.'
`How's that?' said the old man.
`Don't you know they want to present an address of welcome to Edward Rex if he comes here next year? What do we want kowtowing to a foreign king?'
`Our man won't vote for the address,' said Mr O'Connor. `He goes in on the Nationalist ticket.'
`Won't he?' said Mr Hynes. `Wait till you see whether he will or not. I know him. Is it Tricky Dicky Tierney?'
`By God! perhaps you're right, Joe,' said Mr O'Connor. `Anyway, I wish he'd turn up with the spondulicks.'
The three men fell silent. The old man began to rake more cinders together. Mr Hynes took off his hat, shook it and then turned down the collar of his coat, displaying, as he did so, an ivy leaf in the lapel.
`If this man was alive,' he said, pointing to the leaf, `we'd have no talk of an address of welcome.'
`That's true,' said Mr O'Connor.
`Musha, God be with them times!' said the old man. `There was some life in it then.'
The room was silent again. Then a bustling little man with a snuffling nose and very cold ears pushed in the door. He walked over quickly to the fire, rubbing his hands as if he intended to produce a spark from them.
`No money, boys,' he said.
`Sit down here, Mr Henchy,' said the old man, offering him his chair.
`O, don't stir, Jack, don't stir,' said Mr Henchy.
He nodded curtly to Mr Hynes and sat down on the chair which the old man vacated.
`Did you serve Aungier Street?' he asked Mr O'Connor.
`Yes,' said Mr O'Connor, beginning to search his pockets for memoranda.
`Did you call on Grimes?'
`Well? How does he stand?'