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Gabriel had not gone to the door with the others. He was in a dark part of the hall gazing up the staircase. A woman was standing near the top of the first flight, in the shadow also. He could not see her face but he could see the terra-cotta and salmon-pink panels of her skirt which the shadow made appear black and white. It was his wife. She was leaning on the banisters, listening to something. Gabriel was surprised at her stillness and strained his ear to listen also. But he could hear little save the noise of laughter and dispute on the front steps, a few chords struck on the piano and a few notes of a man's voice singing.
He stood still in the gloom of the hall, trying to catch the air that the voice was singing and gazing up at his wife. There was grace and mystery in her attitude as if she were a symbol of something. He asked himself what is a woman standing on the stairs in the shadow, listening to distant music, a symbol of. If he were a painter he would paint her in that attitude. Her blue felt hat would show off the bronze of her hair against the darkness and the dark panels of her skirt would show off the light ones. Distant Music he would call the picture if he were a painter.
The hall-door was closed, and Aunt Kate, Aunt Julia, and Mary Jane came down the hall, still laughing.
`Well, isn't Freddy terrible?' said Mary Jane. `He's really terrible.'
Gabriel said nothing, but pointed up the stairs towards where his wife was standing. Now that the hall-door was closed the voice and the piano could be heard more clearly. Gabriel held up his hand for them to be silent. The song seemed to be in the old Irish tonality and the singer seemed uncertain both of his words and of his voice. The voice, made plaintive by distance and by the singer's hoarseness, faintly illuminated the cadence of the air with words expressing grief:
O, the rain falls on my heavy locks
And the dew wets my skin,
My babe lies cold...
`O,' exclaimed Mary Jane. `It's Bartell D'Arcy singing, and he wouldn't sing all the night. O, I'll get him to sing a song before he goes.'
`O, do, Mary Jane,' said Aunt Kate.
Mary Jane brushed past the others and ran to the staircase, but before she reached it the singing stopped and the piano was closed abruptly.
`O, what a pity!' she cried. `Is he coming down, Gretta?'
Gabriel heard his wife answer yes and saw her come down towards them. A few steps behind her were Mr Bartell D'Arcy and Miss O'Callaghan.
`O, Mr D'Arcy,' cried Mary Jane, `it's downright mean of you to break off like that when we were all in raptures listening to you.'
`I have been at him all the evening,' said Miss O'Callaghan, `and Mrs Conroy, too, and he told us he had a dreadful cold and couldn't sing.'
`O, Mr D'Arcy,' said Aunt Kate, `now that was a great fib to tell.'
`Can't you see that I'm as hoarse as a crow?' said Mr D'Arcy roughly.
He went into the pantry hastily and put on his overcoat. The others, taken back by his rude speech, could find nothing to say. Aunt Kate wrinkled her brows and made signs to the others to drop the subject. Mr D'Arcy stood swathing his neck carefully and frowning.
`It's the weather,' said Aunt Julia, after a pause.
`Yes, everybody has colds,' said Aunt Kate readily, `everybody.'
`They say,' said Mary Jane, `we haven't had snow like it for thirty years, and I read this morning in the newspapers that the snow is general all over Ireland.'
`I love the look of snow,' said Aunt Julia sadly.
`So do I,' said Miss O'Callaghan. `I think Christmas is never really Christmas unless we have the snow on the ground.'
`But poor Mr D'Arcy doesn't like the snow,' said Aunt Kate, smiling.
Mr D'Arcy came from the pantry, fully swathed and buttoned, and in a repentant tone told them the history of his cold. Everyone gave him advice and said it was a great pity and urged him to be very careful of his throat in the night air. Gabriel watched his wife, who did not join in the conversation. She was standing right under the dusty fanlight and the flame of the gas lit up the rich bronze of her hair, which he had seen her drying at the fire a few days before. She was in the same attitude and seemed unaware of the talk about her. At last she turned towards them and Gabriel saw that there was colour on her cheeks and that her eyes were shining. A sudden tide of joy went leaping out of his heart.
`Mr D'Arcy,' she said, `what is the name of that song you were singing?'
`It's called "The Lass of Aughrim",' said Mr D'Arcy, `but I couldn't remember it properly. Why? Do you know it?'
"`The Lass of Aughrim",' she repeated. `I couldn't think of the name.'
`It's a very nice air,' said Mary Jane. `I'm sorry you were not in voice tonight.'
`Now, Mary Jane,' said Aunt Kate, `don't annoy Mr D'Arcy. I won't have him annoyed.'
Seeing that all were ready to start she shepherded them to the door, where good night was said:
`Well, good night, Aunt Kate, and thanks for the pleasant evening.'
`Good night, Gabriel. Good night, Gretta!'
`Good night, Aunt Kate, and thanks ever so much. Good night, Aunt Julia.'
`O, good night, Gretta, I didn't see you.'
`Good night, Mr D'Arcy. Good night, Miss O'Callaghan.'
`Good night, Miss Morkan.'
`Good night, again.'
`Good night, all. Safe home.'
`Good night. Good night.'
The morning was still dark. A dull, yellow light brooded over the houses and the river; and the sky seemed to be descending. It was slushy underfoot, and only streaks and patches of snow lay on the roofs, on the parapets of the quay and on the area railings. The lamps were still burning redly in the murky air and, across the river, the palace of the Four Courts stood out menacingly against the heavy sky.
She was walking on before him with Mr Bartell D'Arcy, her shoes in a brown parcel tucked under one arm and her hands holding her skirt up from the slush. She had no longer any grace of attitude, but Gabriel's eyes were still bright with happiness. The blood went bounding along his veins and the thoughts went rioting through his brain, proud, joyful, tender, valorous.
She was walking on before him so lightly and so erect that he longed to run after her noiselessly, catch her by the shoulders and say something foolish and affectionate into her ear. She seemed to him so frail that he longed to defend her against something and then to be alone with her. Moments of their secret life together burst like stars upon his memory. A heliotrope envelope was lying beside his breakfast-cup and he was caressing it with his hand. Birds were twittering in the ivy and the sunny web of the curtain was shimmering along the floor: he could not eat for happiness. They were standing on the crowded platform and he was placing a ticket inside the warm palm of her glove. He was standing with her in the cold, looking in through a grated window at a man making bottles in a roaring furnace. It was very cold. Her face, fragrant in the cold air, was quite close to his, and suddenly he called out to the man at the furnace:
`Is the fire hot, sir?'
But the man could not hear with the noise of the furnace. It was just as well. He might have answered rudely.
A wave of yet more tender joy escaped from his heart and went coursing in warm flood along his arteries. Like the tender fire of stars moments of their life together, that no one knew of or would ever know of, broke upon and illumined his memory. He longed to recall to her those moments, to make her forget the years of their dull existence together and remember only their moments of ecstasy. For the years, he felt, had not quenched his soul or hers. Their children, his writing, her household cares had not quenched all their souls' tender fire. In one letter that he had written to her then he had said: `Why is it that words like these seem to me so dull and cold? Is it because there is no word tender enough to be your name?'
Like distant music these words that he had written years before were borne towards him from the past. He longed to be alone with her. When the others had gone away, when he and she were in the room in their hotel, then they would be alone together. He would call her softly:
Perhaps she would not hear at once: she would be undressing. Then something in his voice would strike her. She would turn and look at him...
At the corner of Winetavern Street they met a cab. He was glad of its rattling noise as it saved him from conversation. She was looking out of the window and seemed tired. The others spoke only a few words, pointing out some building or street. The horse galloped along wearily under the murky morning sky, dragging his old rattling box after his heels, and Gabriel was again in a cab with her, galloping to catch the boat, galloping to their honeymoon.
As the cab drove across O'Connell Bridge Miss O'Callaghan said:
`They say you never cross O'Connell Bridge without seeing a white horse.'
`I see a white man this time,' said Gabriel.
`Where?' asked Mr Bartell D'Arcy.
Gabriel pointed to the statue, on which lay patches of snow. Then he nodded familiarly to it and waved his hand.
`Good night, Dan,' he said gaily.
When the cab drew up before the hotel, Gabriel jumped out and, in spite of Mr Bartell D'Arcy's protest, paid the driver. He gave the man a shilling over his fare. The man saluted and said:
`A prosperous New Year to you, sir.'
`The same to you,' said Gabriel cordially.
She leaned for a moment on his arm in getting out of the cab and while standing at the kerb-stone, bidding the others good night. She leaned lightly on his arm, as lightly as when she had danced with him a few hours before. He had felt proud and happy then, happy that she was his, proud of her grace and wifely carriage. But now, after the kindling again of so many memories, the first touch of her body, musical and strange and perfumed, sent through him a keen pang of lust. Under cover of her silence he pressed her arm closely to his side, and, as they stood at the hotel door, he felt that they had escaped from their lives and duties, escaped from home and friends and run away together with wild and radiant hearts to a new adventure.
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