Eveline by James Joyce
SHE sat at the window watching the evening invade the avenue. Her head was
leaned against the window curtains and in her nostrils was the odour of
dusty cretonne. She was tired.
Few people passed. The man out of the last house passed on his way home;
she heard his footsteps clacking along the concrete pavement and
afterwards crunching on the cinder path before the new red houses. One
time there used to be a field there in which they used to play every
evening with other people's children. Then a man from Belfast bought the
field and built houses in it—not like their little brown houses but
bright brick houses with shining roofs. The children of the avenue used to
play together in that field—the Devines, the Waters, the Dunns,
little Keogh the cripple, she and her brothers and sisters. Ernest,
however, never played: he was too grown up. Her father used often to hunt
them in out of the field with his blackthorn stick; but usually little
Keogh used to keep nix and call out when he saw her father coming. Still
they seemed to have been rather happy then. Her father was not so bad
then; and besides, her mother was alive. That was a long time ago; she and
her brothers and sisters were all grown up; her mother was dead. Tizzie
Dunn was dead, too, and the Waters had gone back to England. Everything
changes. Now she was going to go away like the others, to leave her home.
Home! She looked round the room, reviewing all its familiar objects which
she had dusted once a week for so many years, wondering where on earth all
the dust came from. Perhaps she would never see again those familiar
objects from which she had never dreamed of being divided. And yet during
all those years she had never found out the name of the priest whose
yellowing photograph hung on the wall above the broken harmonium beside
the coloured print of the promises made to Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque.
He had been a school friend of her father. Whenever he showed the
photograph to a visitor her father used to pass it with a casual word:
"He is in Melbourne now."
She had consented to go away, to leave her home. Was that wise? She tried
to weigh each side of the question. In her home anyway she had shelter and
food; she had those whom she had known all her life about her. Of course
she had to work hard, both in the house and at business. What would they
say of her in the Stores when they found out that she had run away with a
fellow? Say she was a fool, perhaps; and her place would be filled up by
advertisement. Miss Gavan would be glad. She had always had an edge on
her, especially whenever there were people listening.
"Miss Hill, don't you see these ladies are waiting?"
"Look lively, Miss Hill, please."
She would not cry many tears at leaving the Stores.
But in her new home, in a distant unknown country, it would not be like
that. Then she would be married—she, Eveline. People would treat her
with respect then. She would not be treated as her mother had been. Even
now, though she was over nineteen, she sometimes felt herself in danger of
her father's violence. She knew it was that that had given her the
palpitations. When they were growing up he had never gone for her like he
used to go for Harry and Ernest, because she was a girl; but latterly he
had begun to threaten her and say what he would do to her only for her
dead mother's sake. And now she had nobody to protect her. Ernest was dead
and Harry, who was in the church decorating business, was nearly always
down somewhere in the country. Besides, the invariable squabble for money
on Saturday nights had begun to weary her unspeakably. She always gave her
entire wages—seven shillings—and Harry always sent up what he
could but the trouble was to get any money from her father. He said she
used to squander the money, that she had no head, that he wasn't going to
give her his hard-earned money to throw about the streets, and much more,
for he was usually fairly bad of a Saturday night. In the end he would
give her the money and ask her had she any intention of buying Sunday's
dinner. Then she had to rush out as quickly as she could and do her
marketing, holding her black leather purse tightly in her hand as she
elbowed her way through the crowds and returning home late under her load
of provisions. She had hard work to keep the house together and to see
that the two young children who had been left to her charge went to school
regularly and got their meals regularly. It was hard work—a hard
life—but now that she was about to leave it she did not find it a
wholly undesirable life.
She was about to explore another life with Frank. Frank was very kind,
manly, open-hearted. She was to go away with him by the night-boat to be
his wife and to live with him in Buenos Ayres where he had a home waiting
for her. How well she remembered the first time she had seen him; he was
lodging in a house on the main road where she used to visit. It seemed a
few weeks ago. He was standing at the gate, his peaked cap pushed back on
his head and his hair tumbled forward over a face of bronze. Then they had
come to know each other. He used to meet her outside the Stores every
evening and see her home. He took her to see The Bohemian Girl and she
felt elated as she sat in an unaccustomed part of the theatre with him. He
was awfully fond of music and sang a little. People knew that they were
courting and, when he sang about the lass that loves a sailor, she always
felt pleasantly confused. He used to call her Poppens out of fun. First of
all it had been an excitement for her to have a fellow and then she had
begun to like him. He had tales of distant countries. He had started as a
deck boy at a pound a month on a ship of the Allan Line going out to
Canada. He told her the names of the ships he had been on and the names of
the different services. He had sailed through the Straits of Magellan and
he told her stories of the terrible Patagonians. He had fallen on his feet
in Buenos Ayres, he said, and had come over to the old country just for a
holiday. Of course, her father had found out the affair and had forbidden
her to have anything to say to him.
"I know these sailor chaps," he said.
One day he had quarrelled with Frank and after that she had to meet her
The evening deepened in the avenue. The white of two letters in her lap
grew indistinct. One was to Harry; the other was to her father. Ernest had
been her favourite but she liked Harry too. Her father was becoming old
lately, she noticed; he would miss her. Sometimes he could be very nice.
Not long before, when she had been laid up for a day, he had read her out
a ghost story and made toast for her at the fire. Another day, when their
mother was alive, they had all gone for a picnic to the Hill of Howth. She
remembered her father putting on her mother's bonnet to make the children
Her time was running out but she continued to sit by the window, leaning
her head against the window curtain, inhaling the odour of dusty cretonne.
Down far in the avenue she could hear a street organ playing. She knew the
air. Strange that it should come that very night to remind her of the
promise to her mother, her promise to keep the home together as long as
she could. She remembered the last night of her mother's illness; she was
again in the close dark room at the other side of the hall and outside she
heard a melancholy air of Italy. The organ-player had been ordered to go
away and given sixpence. She remembered her father strutting back into the
"Damned Italians! coming over here!"
As she mused the pitiful vision of her mother's life laid its spell on the
very quick of her being—that life of commonplace sacrifices closing
in final craziness. She trembled as she heard again her mother's voice
saying constantly with foolish insistence:
"Derevaun Seraun! Derevaun Seraun!"
She stood up in a sudden impulse of terror. Escape! She must escape! Frank
would save her. He would give her life, perhaps love, too. But she wanted
to live. Why should she be unhappy? She had a right to happiness. Frank
would take her in his arms, fold her in his arms. He would save her.
She stood among the swaying crowd in the station at the North Wall. He
held her hand and she knew that he was speaking to her, saying something
about the passage over and over again. The station was full of soldiers
with brown baggages. Through the wide doors of the sheds she caught a
glimpse of the black mass of the boat, lying in beside the quay wall, with
illumined portholes. She answered nothing. She felt her cheek pale and
cold and, out of a maze of distress, she prayed to God to direct her, to
show her what was her duty. The boat blew a long mournful whistle into the
mist. If she went, tomorrow she would be on the sea with Frank, steaming
towards Buenos Ayres. Their passage had been booked. Could she still draw
back after all he had done for her? Her distress awoke a nausea in her
body and she kept moving her lips in silent fervent prayer.
A bell clanged upon her heart. She felt him seize her hand:
All the seas of the world tumbled about her heart. He was drawing her into
them: he would drown her. She gripped with both hands at the iron railing.
No! No! No! It was impossible. Her hands clutched the iron in frenzy. Amid
the seas she sent a cry of anguish!
He rushed beyond the barrier and called to her to follow. He was shouted
at to go on but he still called to her. She set her white face to him,
passive, like a helpless animal. Her eyes gave him no sign of love or
farewell or recognition.