A Little Cloud by James Joyce
Eight years before he had seen his friend off at the North Wall and wished him God-speed, Gallaher had got on. You could tell that at once by his far-faredness, his well-cut tweed suit, and fearless betoning. Few fellows had skills like his, and fewer still could stay unspoiled by such thriftiness. Gallaher's heart was in the right stead and he had been worthy to win. It was something to have a friend like that.
Little Chandler's thoughts ever since lunch-tide had been of his meeting with Gallaher, of Gallaher's welcome, and of the great burg London where Gallaher lived. He was called Little Chandler because, though he was but slightly under the average size, he gave one the thought of being a little man. His hands were white and small, his upper body was fragile, his steven was hushed and his ways were couth. He took the greatest care of his fair silken hair and beard, and did with duftwater with onsightliness on his handkerchief. The half-moons of his nails were shapely, and when he smiled you caught a glimpse of a row of childish white teeth.
As he sat at his desk in the King's Inns he thought what makeovers those eight years had brought. The friend whom he had known under a shabby and needed becloaking had become a shiny ableman on the London Tidingthrimps. He turned often from his tiresome writing to gaze out of the workstead window. The glow of a late fall sunset took over the grass plots and walks. It cast a shower of kindly golden dust on the untidy nurses and worn-out old men who drowsed on the benches; it flickered upon all the moving shadows - on the children who ran screaming along the pebbled paths and on everyone who passed through the gardens. He watched the scape and thought of life; and (as always happened when he thought of life) he became sad. A belittling sadness took hold of him. He felt how unworksome it was to struggle against luck, this being the burden of wisdom which the ages had bequeathed to him.
He recalled the books of wordcraft upon his shelves at home. He had bought them in his lonely days and many an evening, as he sat in the little room off the hall, he had been forled to take one down from the bookshelf and read out something to his wife. But shyness had always held him back; and so the books had stayed on their shelves. At tides he went over lines to himself and this soothed him.
When his hour had struck he stood up and took leave of his desk and of his fellow-clerks with close care. He came out from under the bent bow of the King's Inns, in a neat smallish way, and walked swiftly down Henrietta Street. The golden sunset was waning and the weather had grown sharp. A horde of grimy children lay the street. They stood or ran in the roadway, or crawled up the steps before the gaping doors, or squatted like mice upon the thresholds. Little Chandler gave them no thought. He picked his way deftly through all that tiny buglike life and under the shadow of the gaunt broad lordhouse in which the old athelings of Dublin had brawled and drunk. No recalling of the foregone felt him, for his mind was now full of a mirth.
He had never been in Corless's, but he knew the worth of the name. He knew that folks went there after the show to eat oysters and drink ale; and he had heard that the waiters there spoke French and German. Walking swiftly by at night he had seen cabs drawn up before the door and richly-clothed ladies, ushered by knights, alight and come in quickly. They wore noisy clothes and many wraps. Their faces were peppered with make-up and they caught up their clothes, when they touched earth, like roused Atalantas. He had always gone by without turning wending his head to look. It was his wont to walk swiftly in the street even by day, and whenever he found himself in the burg late at night he hurried on his way angstily and mirthfully. Sometides, however, he listened to the grounds of his fear. He chose the darkest and narrowest streets and, as he walked boldly forward, the stillness that was spread about his footsteps worried him; the wandering, still shadows ailed him; and at tides a pitch of low flighting laughter made him shudder like a leaf.
He wended to the right towards Capel Street. Ignatius Gallaher on the London Tidingthrimps! Who would have thought it doughtbefall eight years before? Still, now that he looked back the foregone, Little Chandler could recall many glimpses of upcoming greatness in his friend. Folks formerly said that Ignatius Gallaher was wild. Forsooth, he did mingle with a rakish set of fellows at that time; drank freely and borrowed geld on all sides. In the end he had got meddled up in some shady thing, some geldly swap: at least, that was one side of his flight. But nobody naysaid that he had no skill. There was always some... something in Ignatius Gallaher that instilled you in spite of yourself. Even when he was out at elbows and at his wits' end for geld he kept up a bold sight. Little Chandler recalled (and the recalling brought a slight flush of pride to his cheek) one of Ignatius Gallaher's sayings when he was in a tight nook:
“Half-tide now, boys,” he formerly said light-heartedly. “Where's my lucky cap?”
That was Ignatius Gallaher all out; and, damn it, you couldn't but bewonder him for it.
Little Chandler quickened his step. For the first tide in his life he felt himself above to the folks he went by. For the first tide his soul fought back against the dull blightness of Capel Street. There was no qualm about it: if you wanted to be gainsome you had to go away. You could do nothing in Dublin. As he went by Grattan Bridge he looked down the stream towards the netherlayings and felt sorry for the poor stunted houses. They seemed to him a band of tramps, huddled together along the stream-banks, their old coats overlaid with dust and soot, amazed by the wholesomeness of sunset and waiting for the first chill of night to bid them arise, shake themselves and begone. He wondered whether he could write a wordcraft to outthrimp his wit. Byhaps Gallaher might be able to get it into some London tiding for him. Could he write something fresh? He was not sure what brainwave he wished to sent out, but the thought that a wordcraftly trice had fingered him took life within him like an newborn hope. He stepped onward stalwartly.
Every step brought him nearer to London, farther from his own dull uncraftsmanly life. A light began to shiver on the skyscape of his mind. He was not so old - thirty-two. His mood might be said to be almost at the tip of ripeness. There were so many unlike moods and stamps that he wished to cast forth in staff. He felt them within him. He tried to weigh his soul to see if it was a wordcraftsman’s soul. Sorrowfulness was the leading share of his mood, he thought, but it was a sorrowfulness annealed by outbursts of belief and withdrawal and mere mirth. If he could give rise to it in a book of wordcrafts mayhaps men would listen. He would never be held dear: he saw that. He could not sway the crowd, but he might beckon to a little ring of kindred minds. The English undersayers, byhaps, would acknowledge him as one of the Celtic lorehall anent of the sorrowful mood of his wordcrafts; besides that, he would put in anentenings. He began to think up wordstrings and wordstring slivers from the heed which his book would get. “Mr Chandler has the gift of eathy and willful staff”... “A wistful sadness is all over these wordcrafts... “The Celtic betoning”. It was a shame his name was not more Irish-looking. Mayhaps it would be better to put in his mother's name before the forename: Thomas Malone Chandler; or better still: T. Malone Chandler. He would speak to Gallaher about it.
He followed his dream so steadfastly that he went by his street and had to wind back. As he came near Corless's his former mindfret began to overmaster him and he halted before the door in halfmindedness. Finally he opened the door and went in.
The light and noise of the bar held him at the doorway for a few trices. He looked about him, but his sight was ablent by the shining of many red and green wine-glasses. The bar seemed to him to be full of folks and he felt that the folks were keenly looking at him, yearning to know. He glanced quickly to right and left (frowning slightly to make his errand look earnest), but when his sight brightened a little he saw that nobody had winded to look at him: and there, soothly enough, was Ignatius Gallaher leaning with his back against the board and his feet set far apart.
“Hallo, Tommy, old fellow, here you are! What is it to be? What will you have? I'm taking whisky: better stuff than we get across the water. Soda? Lithia? No rockwater? I'm the same. Spoils the smack... Here, gar on, bring us two halves of malt whisky, like a good fellow... Well, and how have you been pulling along since I saw you last? Dear God, how old we're getting! Do you see any hints of oldening in me - eh, what? A little grey and thin on the top - what?”
Ignatius Gallaher took off his hat and showed off a large closely-cropped head. His foreside was heavy, pale, and clean-shaven. His eyes, which were of bluish slate-shaded, soothed his unhealthy whiteness and shone out plainly above the lively reddish tie he wore. Between these againstset looks the lips seemed way long and shapeless and dyeless. He bent his head and felt with two kindly fingers the thin hair at the wreath. Little Chandler shook his head as a forsaying. Ignatius Gallaher put on his hat again.
“It pulls you down,” he said. “Tidingthrimps life. Always hurry and scurry, looking for beteem and sometides not finding it: and then, always to have something new in your stuff. Damn checkreadings and instillers, I say, for a few days. I'm damn glad, I can tell you, to get back to the old shire. Does a fellow good, a bit of a holiday. I feel a whole lot better since I landed again in dear, dirty Dublin... Here you are, Tommy. Water? Say when.”
Little Chandler let his whisky to be sorely watered down.
“You don't know what's good for you, my boy,” said Ignatius Gallaher. “I drink mine neat.”
“I drink rather little as a law,” said Little Chandler shamefastly. “An odd half-one or so when I meet any of the old crowd: that's all.”
“Ah well,” said Ignatius Gallaher cheerfully, “here's to us and to olden tides and old friends.”
They clinked glasses and drank the toast.
`” met some of the old gang today,” said Ignatius Gallaher. “O'Hara seems to be in a bad way. What's he doing?”
“Nothing,” said Little Chandler. “He's gone to the dogs.”
"But Hogan has a good sit, hasn't he?”
“Yes, be's in the Land Betaking.”
“I met him one night in London and he seemed to be highly flush... Sodden O'Hara! Booze, I reckon?”
“Other things, too,” said Little Chandler shortly.
Ignatius Gallaher laughed.
“Tommy,” he said, “I see you haven't shifted a tidbit. In sooth, you're the same earnest man that would lorespeak to me on Sunday mornings when I had a sore head and a fur on my tongue. You'd want to knock about a bit in the world. Have you never been anywhere even for a trip?'
“I've been to the Isle of Man,” said Little Chandler.
Ignatius Gallaher laughed.
“The Isle of Man!” he said. “Go to London or Paris: Paris, it’s a must. That'd do you good.”
“Have you seen Paris?”
“I should think I have! I've knocked about there a little.”
“And is it truly so pretty as they say?' asked Little Chandler.
He sipped a little of his drink while Ignatius Gallaher ended his boldly.
“Pretty?” said Ignatius Gallaher, halting on the word and on the smack of his drink. `It's not so pretty, you know. Forsooth it is pretty... But it's the life of Paris; that's the thing. Ah, there's no burg like Paris for upbeatness, bewaying, thrills... '
Little Chandler ended his whisky and, after some struggle, was able to catch the barman's eye. He asked for the same again.
“I've been to the Moulin Rouge,” Ignatius Gallaher going on when the barman had taken off their glasses, “and I've been to all the Bohemian coffee shops. Hot stuff! Not for a believing chap like you, Tommy.”
Little Chandler said nothing until the barman had come back with two glasses: then he felt his friend's glass lightly and answered back the former toast. He was beginning to feel somewhat bedeviled. Gallaher's betoning and way of saying things himself did not gladden him. There was something folkish in his friend which lie had not closely seen before. But mayhaps it was only the outcome of living in London amidst the bustle and ordeal of the Tidingthrimp. The old folksy comeliness was still there under this new gaudy shape. And, after all, Gallaher had lived, he had seen the world. Little Chandler looked at his friend nithfully.
“Everything in Paris is upbeat,” said Ignatius Gallaher. “They believe in having fun in life - and don't you think they're right? If you want to have fun for yourself fittingly you must go to Paris. And, mind you, they've a great feeling for the Irish there. When they heard I was from Ireland they were ready to eat me, man.”
Little Chandler took four or five sips from his glass.
“Tell me,” he said, “is it true that Paris is so... sinful as they say?”
Ignatius Gallaher made a broad move with his right arm.
“Every place is sinful,” he said. “Forsooth, you do find sloppy bits in Paris. Go to one of the highschooler’s balls, let’s say. That's lively, if you like, when the bawds begin to let themselves loose. You know what they are, I reckon?”
“I've heard of them,” said Little Chandler.
Ignatius Gallaher drank off his whisky and shook his head.
“Ah,” he said, “you may say what you like. There's no woman like the Parisienne - for looks, for go.”
“Then it is a sinful burg,' said Little Chandler, with shy bestanding – “I mean, what about when set against with London or Dublin?”
“London!” said Ignatius Gallaher. “It's six of one and half a dozen of the other. You ask Hogan, my boy. I showed him a bit about London when he was over there. He'd open your eye... I say, Tommy, don't make punch of that whisky: drink up.”
“O, come on, another one won't do you any harm. What is it? The same again, I reckon?'
`Well... all right.'
`Francois, the same again... Will you smoke, Tommy?'
Ignatius Gallaher took out his small cigar box. The two friends lit their cigars and puffed at them in stillness until their drinks had come.
“I'll tell you my thought,” said Ignatius Gallaher, coming out after some tide from the clouds of smoke in which he had been overwhelmed, “it's a rum world. Talk of wrongfulness! I've heard of tides - what am I saying? - I've known them: snippets of... sinfulness... '
Ignatius Gallaher puffed thoughtfully at his cigar and then, in a lulling yoreteller’s betoning, he went on to sketch for his friend some gestalts of the crookedness which was rife abroad. He quickly went over the evils of many highburgs and seemed leaning to award the goods to Berlin. Some things he could not call out for (his friends had told him), but of others he had had his own happenings. He spared neither rank nor wealthiness. He brought to light many of the hushthoughts of worshipful houses on the Mainland, and set forth some of the doings which were trendy in high fellowship, and ended by telling, with tidbits, a tale about an English duchess - a tale which he knew to be true. Little chandler was astounded.
“Ah, well,” said Ignatius Gallaher, “here we are in old jog-along Dublin where nothing is known of such things.”
“How dull you must find it,” said Little Chandler, “after all the other steads you've seen!”
“Well,” said Ignatius Gallaher, “it's mellowing to come over here, you know. And, after all, it's the old shire, as they say, isn't it? You can't help having a kind of feeling for it. That's mankind’s barelife... But tell me something about yourself. Hogan told me you had... felt the merriness of man-and-wife bliss. Two years ago, wasn't it?”
Little Chandler blushed and smiled.
“Yes,” he said. “I was wedded last May twelve months.”
“I hope it's not too late in the day to give my best wishes,” said Ignatius Gallaher. “I didn't know your homestead or I'd have done so at the tide.”
He pulled out his hand, which Little Chandler took.
“Well, Tommy,” he said, “I wish you and yours every bliss in life, old chap, and loads of geld, and may you never die till I shoot you. And that's the wish of a trustworthy friend, an old friend. You know that?”
“I know that,” said Little Chandler.
“Any youngsters?” said Ignatius Gallaher.
Little Chandler blushed again.
“We have one child,” he said.
“Son or daughter?”
“A little boy.”
Ignatius Gallaher slapped his friend noisily on the back.
“I wish you luck,” he said, `I wouldn't misbelieve you, Tommy.'
Little Chandler smiled, looked ablently at his glass and bit his lower lip with three childishly white front teeth.
“I hope you'll squander an evening with us,” he said, “before you go back. My wife will be enthralled to meet you. We can have a little glee and—“
“Thanks awfully, old chap,” said Ignatius Gallaher, “I'm sorry we didn't meet earlier. But I must leave tomorrow night.”
“Tonight, byhaps... ?”
“I'm awfully sorry, old man. You see I'm over here with another fellow, clever young chap he is too, and we set out to go to a little game-gathering. Only for that... “
“O, then anent... “
“But who knows?” said Ignatius Gallaher heedfully. “Next year I may take a little skip over here now that I've broken the ice. It's only a gladness belated.”
“Mighty well,” said Little Chandler, “the next time you come we must have an evening together. That's settled now, isn't it?”
“Yes, that's settled,” said Ignatius Gallaher. “Next year if I come, my word is as good as gold.”
“And to clinch the deal,” said Little Chandler, “we'll merely have one more now.”
Ignatius Gallaher took out a large gold watch and looked at it.
“Is it to be the last?” he said. “Because, you know, I have a booze weakness.”
“O, yes, positively,” said Little Chandler.
“Very well, then,” said Ignatius Gallaher, “let us have another one as a deoc an doirus - that's good homespun-speak for a small whisky, I believe.”
Little Chandler asked for the drinks. The blush which had risen to his face a few trices before was settling itself in. A trifle made him blush at any tide: and now he felt warm and gleeful. Three small whiskies had gone to his head and Gallaher's strong cigar had ablent his mind, for he was a finespun and forbearing man. The ordeal of meeting Gallaher after eight years, of finding himself with Gallaher in Corless's beset by lights and noise, of listening to Gallaher's tales and of sharing for a short tide Gallaher's haphazard and gainsome life, upset the offset of his keen kind. He felt sharply the againstset between his own life and his friend's, and it seemed to him unfair. Gallaher was lower than him by birth and upbringing. He knew that he could do something better than his friend had ever done, or could ever do, something higher than mere tawdry tidingwriting if he only got the hap. What was it that stood in his way? His untoward shyness! He wished to beright himself in some way, to show to himself his manhood. He saw behind Gallaher's naysaying of his welcome. Gallaher was only owning him by his friendliness like he was owning Ireland by his coming.
The barman brought their drinks. Little Chandler pulled away one glass towards his friend and took up the other boldly.
“Who knows?” he said, as they lifted their glasses. “When you come next year I may have the mirth of wishing long life and happiness to Mr. and Mrs. Ignatius Gallaher.”
Ignatius Gallaher in the act of drinking closed one eye outstillingly over the rim of his glass. When he had drunk he smacked his lips steadfastly, set down his glass and said:
“No blooming fear of that, my boy. I'm going to have my fling first and see a bit of life and the world before I put my head in the bag - if I ever do.”
“Some day you will,” said Little Chandler bemoaningly.
Ignatius Gallaher winded his reddish tie and slate-blue eyes full upon his friend.
“You think so?” he said.
“You'll put your head in the bag,” said anew Little Chandler stoutly, “like everyone else if you can find the girl.”
He had slightly highlighted his betoning, and he was aware that he had sold out himself; but, though the dye had heightened in his cheek, he did not flinch from his friend’s gaze. Ignatius Gallaher watched him for a few trices and then said:
“If ever it occurs, you may bet your bottom sterling there'll be no mooning and spooning about it. I mean to wed geld. She'll have a good fat geldstock at the geldhouse or she won't do for me.”
Little Chandler shook his head.
“Why, man alive,” said Ignatius Gallaher, heftily, “do you know what it is? I've only to say the word and tomorrow I can have the woman and the geld. You don't believe it? Well, I know it. There are hundreds - what am I saying? - thousands of rich Germans and Jews, rotten with geld, that'd only be too glad... You wait a while, my boy. See if I don't play my game rightly. When I go about a thing I mean business, I tell you. You only wait.”
He tossed his glass to his mouth, finished his drink and laughed loudly. Then he looked thoughtfully before him and said in a stiller betoning:
“But I'm in no hurry. They can wait. I don't fancy tying myself up to one woman, you know.”
He made as if with his mouth the deed of smacking and made a wry foreside.
“Must get a bit stale, I should think,” he said.
Little Chandler sat in the room off the hall, holding a child in his arms. To save geld they kept no housemaid, but Annie's young sister Monica came for an hour or so in the morning and an hour or so in the evening to help. But Monica had gone home long ago. It was a fourth to nine. Little Chandler had come home late for tea and, moreover, he had forgotten to bring Annie home the bag of coffee from Bewley's. Forsooth she was in a bad mood and gave him short answers. She said she would do without any tea, but when it came near the tide at which the shop at the edge closed she set out to go out herself for a fourth of a pound of tea and two pounds of sweetstuff. She put the sleeping child deftly in his arms and said:
“Here. Don't waken him.”
A little crusie with a white china shade stood upon the table and its light fell over a snapshot which was shut in in a binder of crumpled horn. It was Annie's lightwrit. Little Chandler looked at it, pausing at the thin tight lips. She wore the wan blue summer keel which he had brought her home as a gift one Saturday. It had allayed him ten and elevenpence; but what an unbearable edginess it had allayed him! How he had gone through so much pain that day, waiting at the shop door until the shop was empty, standing at the board and trying to look unladen while the girl piled ladies' keels before him, betelling at the writing board and forgetting to take up the odd penny of his tash, being called back by the teller, and finally, striving to hide his blushes as he left the shop by keenly looking at the package to see if it was strongly tied. When he brought the keel home, Annie kissed him and said it was very pretty and comely; but when she heard the worth she threw the keel on the eating board and said it was an everyday swindle to plight ten and elevenpence for it. At first she wanted to take it back, but when she tried it on she was gladdened with it, especially with the make of the sleeves, and kissed him and said he was very good to think of her.
He looked coldly into the eyes of the snapshot and they answered coldly. Soothly they were pretty and the foreside itself was pretty. But he found something mean in it. Why was it so unaware and ladylike? The nibcraft of the eyes made him want to scratch them. They warded him off and thwarted him: there was no feelingship in them, no mirthfulness. He thought of what Gallaher had said about rich Jewesses. Those dark Eastern eyes, he thought, how full they are of feelingship, of lusty longing! ...Why had he wedded the eyes in the snapshop?
He caught himself up at the asking and glanced waveringly athwart the room. He found something mean in the pretty roomware which he had bought for his house on the hire setup. Annie had chosen it herself and it reminded him of her. It too was prim and pretty. A dull bitterness against his life awoke within him. Could he not get away from his little house? Was it too late for him to try to live daringly like Gallaher? Could he go to London? There was the roomwave still to be betold for. If he could only write a book and get it folkcasted, that might open the way for him.
A wal of Byron's wordcrafts lay before him on the writing board. He opened it carefully with his left hand lest he should waken the child and began to read the first wordcraft in the book:
Hushed are the winds and still the evening gloom, Not e'en a windlick wanders through the grove, Whilst I awend to see my Margaret's death stone And scatter flowers on the dust I love.
He halted. He felt the rime of the verse about him in the room. How downhearted it was! Could he, too, write like that, set forth the woefulness of his soul in staff? There were so many things he wanted to write out: his feeling of a few hours before on Grattan Bridge, for byspell. If he could get back again into that mood...
The child awoke and began to cry. He writhed from the bookleaf and tried to hush it: but it would not be hushed. He began to rock it to and fro in his arms, but its wailing cry grew keener. He rocked it faster while his eyes began to read writing block two:
Within this narrow kernel stretched heel her clay, That clay where once...
It was idle. He couldn't read. He couldn't do anything. The wailing of the child bored the drum of his ear. It was unhandy, idle! He was locked up for life. His arms quivered with wrath and at once bending to the child's face he shouted:
The child stopped for a trice, had a wince of fright and began to scream. He jumped up from his stool and walked hastily up and down the room with the child in his arms. It began to sob endlessly, losing its breath for four or five tidebits, and then bursting out anew. The thin walls of the room witherclanked the sound. He tried to soothe it, but it sobbed with more wroth. He looked at the shrunken and quivering foreside of the child and began to be roused. He reckoned seven sobs without a break between them and caught the child to his breast in fright. If it died!...
The door was burst open and a young woman ran in, panting.
“What is it? What is it?” she cried.
The child, hearing its mother's steven, broke out into a cramp of sobbing.
“It's nothing, Annie... it's nothing... He began to cry... “
She flung her boxes onto the floor and snatched the child from him.
“What have you done to him?” she cried, glaring into his face.
Little Chandler was beset for one moment by the gaze of her eyes and his heart closed together as he met the hatred in them. He began to stammer:
“It's nothing... He... he... began to cry... I couldn't... I didn't do anything... What?”
Giving no heed to him she began to walk up and down the room, clasping the child tightly in her arms and grumbling:
“My little man! My little mannie! Was 'ou frightened, love?”... There now, love! There now!... Lambabaun! Mamma's little lamb of the world!... There now!”
Little Chandler felt his cheeks tinged with shame and he stood back out of the lamplight. He listened while the outbreaks of the child's sobbing grew less and less; and tears of rue started to his eyes