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Authors: Brian Moore

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Literary, #Women's Fiction, #Single Women, #Literary Fiction, #British & Irish, #Psychological

The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne

BOOK: The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne
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The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne by Brian Moore


By Brian Moore

An Atlantic Monthly Press Book

Little, Brown and Company-Boston, Toronto









The first thing Miss Judith Hearne unpacked in her new lodgings was the silver-framed photograph of her aunt. The place for her aunt, ever since the sad day of the funeral, was on the mantelpiece of whatever bed-sitting-room Miss Hearne happened to be living in. And as she put her up now, the photograph eyes were stern and questioning, sharing Miss Hearne’s own misgivings about the condition of the bedsprings, the shabbiness of the furniture and the run-down part of Belfast in which the room was situated.

After she had arranged the photograph so that her dear aunt could look at her from the exact centre of the mantelpiece, Miss Hearne unwrapped the white tissue paper which covered the coloured oleograph of the Sacred Heart. His place was at the head of the bed, His fingers raised in benediction, His eyes kindly yet accusing. He was old and the painted halo around His head was beginning to show little cracks. He had looked down on Miss Hearne for a long time, almost half her lifetime.

The trouble about hanging the Sacred Heart, Miss Hearne discovered, was that there was no picture hook in the right place. She had bought some picture hooks but she had no hammer. So she laid the Sacred Heart down on the bed and went to the bay window to see how the room looked from there.

The street outside was a university bywater, once a good residential area, which had lately been reduced to the level of taking in paying guests. Miss Hearne stared at the houses opposite and thought of her aunt’s day when there were only


private families in this street, at least one maid to every house, and dinner was at night, not at noon. All gone now, all those people dead and all the houses partitioned off into flats, the bedrooms cut in two, kitchenettes jammed into linen closets, linoleum on the floors and ‘To Let’ cards in the bay windows. Like this house, she thought. This bed-sitting-room must have been the master bedroom. Or even a drawing-room. And look at it now. She turned f’rom the window to the photograph on the mantelpiece. All changed, she told it, all changed since your day. And I’m the one who has to put up with it.

But then she shook her head to chase the silly cobwebs from her mind. She walked across the room, inspecting the surface. The carpet wasn’t bad at all, just a bit worn in the middle part, and a chair could be put there. The bed could be moved out an inch from the wall to hide that stain. And there on the bed was the Sacred Heart, lying face down, waiting to be put up in His proper place. Nothing for it, Miss Hearne said to herself, but to go down and ask the new landlady for the loan of a hammer.

Down she went, down the two flights of stairs to the kitchen which was used as a sitting-room by Mrs Henry Rice. She knocked on the curtained door and Mrs Henry Rice drew the edge of the curtain aside to peek through the glass before she opened the door. Miss Hearne thought that a little rude, to say the least.

‘Yes, Miss Hearne?’

Beyond the open door Miss Hearne saw a good fire in the grate and a set of china tea things on a table.

‘I wondered if you had a hammer you might lend me. It’s to put up a picture, you know. I’m terribly sorry to be troubling you like this.’

‘No trouble at all,’ Mrs Henry Rice said. ‘But I have a head like a sieve, i never can remember where I put things. I’lljust have to think now. Listen, why don’t you come in and sit down? Maybe you’d like a cup of tea. Ijust wet some tea this minute.’

Well, that really was a nice gesture to start things off. Very nice indeed. ‘That’s very kind of you,’ Miss Hearne said. ‘But


I hate to put you out like this, really I do. I only wanted to put my picture up, you see.’

But as she said this she advanced across the threshold. It was always interesting to see how other people lived and, goodness knows, a person had to have someone to talk to. Of course, some landladies could be friendly for their own ends. Like Mrs Harper when I was on Cromwell road and she thought I was going to help her in that tobacconist business. Still, Mrs Henry Rice doesn’t look that type. Such a big jolly person, and very nicely spoken.

The room was not in the best of taste, Miss Hearne saw at once. But cosy. Lots of little lace doilies on the tables and lamps with pretty pastel shades. There was a big enamel china dog on the mantelpiece and a set of crossed flags on the wall. Papal flags with silver paper letters underneath that said:

EUCHARISTIC CONGRESS DUBLIN. That was in 1932, in the

Phoenix Park, Miss Hearne remembered, and my second cousin, once removed, sang in the choir at High Mass. Nan D’Arcy, God rest her soul, a sudden end, pleurisy, the poor thing. John McCormack was the tenor. A thrilling voice. A Papal count.

‘Sit up close to the fire now. It’s perishing cold out,’ Mrs Henry Rice said. A Dublin voice, Miss Hearne thought. But not quite. She has a touch of the North in her accent.

Miss Hearne saw that there were two wing chairs pushed close to the fire. She went towards one of them and it turned around and a man was in it.

He was a horrid-looking fellow. Fat as a pig he was, and his face was the colour of cottage cheese. His collar was unbuttoned and his silk tie was spotted with egg stain. His stomach stuck out like a sagging pillow arid his little thin legs fell away under it to end in torn felt slippers. He was all bristly blond jowls, tiny puffy hands and long blond curly hair, like some monstrous baby swelled to man size.

‘This is Bernard, my only boy,’ said Mrs Henry Rice. ‘This is Miss Hearne, Bernie. ‘remember, I told you about her coming to stay with us?’

He stared at Miss Hearne with bloodshot eyes, rejecting her


as all males had before him. Then he smiled, showing dirty yellow teeth.

‘Come and sit by the fire, Miss Hearne,’ he said. ‘Take the other chair. Mama won’t mind.’

Rejected, Miss Hearne sat down, fiddled with her garnet rings, moved her thin legs together and peered for comfort at her long, pointed shoes with the little buttons on them, winking up at her like wise little friendly eyes. Little shoe eyes, always there.

‘Sugar and cream?’ Mrs Henry Rice asked, bending over the tea things.

‘Two lumps, please. And just a sopfon of cream,’ Miss

Hearne said, smiling her thanks.

‘Cup of tea, Bernie?’

‘No, thanks, Mama,’ the fat man said. His voice was-soft and compelling and it shocked Miss Hearne that this ugly pudding should possess it. It reminded her of the time she had seen Beniamino Gigli, the Italian tenor. A fat, perspiring man with a horrid face, wiping the perspiration away with a white handkerchief. And then, when he opened his mouth, you forgot everything and he became a wonderful angel, thrilling everyone in the theatre, from the front stalls to the gods.

When Bernard spoke, you wanted to listen. ‘Just a little cup, dear?’ ‘No, Mama.’

‘Miss Hearne.’ Mrs Henry Rice handed a teacup with the little silver teaspoon clattering in the saucer. Miss Hearne steadied the spoon and smiled her thanks.

‘And have you lived long in Belfast, did you say?’ Mrs Henry Rice said, poking the fire into a good blaze.

‘O, since I was a child, yes,’ Miss Hearne said. ‘You see, my aunt lived here, although my parents lived in Ballymena.’

‘I see,’ said Mrs Henry Rice, who did not see. ‘And whereabouts did your aunt live? Was it on this side of the city?’

‘O, yes,’ Miss Hearne said. ‘It was on the Lisburn Road. You see, my parents died when I was very young and my dear aunt, rest her soul, took me to live with her in Belfast.’

‘Well, we all have to move around,’ Mrs Henry Rice said.


‘I was born and raised myself in Donegal, in a little place called Creeslough. And then, when I was only a bit of a girl, I was packed off to Dublin to attend a secretarial college. And lived there with an uncle of mine. And met my late husband there. And then, Mr Rice, that’s my late husband, he was posted from Dublin to Belfast. And here I am. It just goes to show you, we all have to run from pillar to post, and you never know where you’ll end up.’

‘Indeed, Miss Hearne said. ‘But it must have been interesting for you, living in Dublin for so many years.

‘O, Dublin’s a grand city, no doubt about it. I’ve never been what you might call fond of Belfast. Of course, it’s not the same for you. You’d have lots of friends here. Is your poor aunt dead long?’

‘A few years ago,’ Miss Hearne said guardedly.

‘And do you have relatives here?’ Mrs Henry Rice asked, offering a plate of Jacob’s cream puff biscuits.

‘Not close relatives,’ Miss Hearne said, fencing her way over familiar ground. They were all a bit nosey, landladies, it was to be expected, of course. They had to know what class of people they were getting, and a good thing too. You couldn’t blame them.

‘My aunt came from a very old Belfast family,’ she said. ‘They’ve nearly all died out now, but they have a very interesting history, my aunt’s people. For instance, they’re all buried out in Nun’s Bush. That’s one of the oldest cemeteries in the country. Full up now. It’s closed, you know.’

‘Well, that’s interesting,’ Mrs Henry Rice said, uninterested.

‘Have a bikky, Bernie?’

‘No thanks, Mama.’

He yawned, patting the opened circle of his mouth with a puffy hand. Above the yawn his eyes, unblinking, watched Miss Hearne, bringing the hot blood to her face.

‘I do believe I’ll just throw off this cardigan, if you don’t mind.’

‘I’ll hold your cup,’ Mrs Henry Rice offered amiably. ‘This room does get a little hot with a good fire going. But Bernie feels the cold a lot, always has.’


Who does he think he is, no manners, staring like that. Give him a stiff look myself. But no, no, he’s still looking. Upsetting. Turn to something else. That book, beside him, upside down, it’s ester, verse, yes, English Century Seventeenth. Reading it, yes, lie has a bookmark in it.

‘I see you’re interested in poetry, Mr Rice.’

‘O, Bernie’s a poet. And always studying. He’s at the university.’

‘I am not at the university, Mama,’ the fat man said. ‘I haven’t been at Queen’s for five years.’

‘Bernie’s a little delicate, Miss Hearne. He had to stop his studies a while back. Anyway, I think the boys work too hard up there at Queen’s. I always say it’s better to take your time. A young fellow like Bernie has lots of time, no need to rush through life. Take your time and you’ll live longer.’

That fatty must be thirty, if he’s a day, Miss Hearne told herself. Something about him. Not a toper, but something. O, the cross some mothers have to bear.

And the cross brought back the Sacred Heart, lying on tlie bed in the room upstairs, waiting for a hammer to nail Him up. Still, it was nice to sit here in front of a good warm fire with a cup of tea in your hand. And besides, Mrs Henry Rice and this horrid fatty would make an interesting tale to tell when she saw the O’Neills.

For it was important to have things to tell which interested your friends. And Miss Hearne had always been able to fred interesting happenings where other people would find only dullness. It was, she often felt, a gift which was one of the great rewards of a solitary life. And a necessary gift. Because, when you were a single girl, you had to find interesting things to talk about. Other women always had their children and shopping and running a house to chat about. Besides which, their husbands often told them interesting stories. But a single girl was in a different position. People simply didn’t want to hear how she managed things like accommodation and budgets. She had to fred other subjects and other subjects were mostly other people. So people she knew, people she had heard of,


people she saw in the street, people she had read about, they all had to be collected and gone through like a basket of sewing so that the most interesting bits about them could be picked out and fitted together to make conversation. And that was why even a queer fellow like this Bernard Rice was a blessing in his own way. He was so funny and horrible with his ‘Yes, Mama,’ and ‘No, Mama,’ and his long blond baby hair. He’d make a tale for the O’Neills at Sunday tea.

So Miss Hearne decided to let the Sacred Heart wait. She smiled, instead, at Bernard and asked him what he had been

studying at the university.

‘Arts,’ he said.

‘And were you planning to teach? I mean, when your health…’

‘I’m not planning anything,’ Bernard said quietly. Am writing poetry. And I’m living with my mother.’ He smiled at Mrs Henry Rice as he said it. Mrs Henry Rice nodded her head fondly.

BOOK: The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne
3.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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