Read The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne Online

Authors: Brian Moore

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

The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne (2 page)

BOOK: The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne
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‘Bernard’s not like some boys,’ she said. ‘Always wanting to leave their poor mothers and take up with some woman and get married far too young. No, Bernard likes his home, don’t you, Bernie?’

‘Nobody else knows my ways as well as you, Mama,’ Bernard said softly. He turned to Miss Hearne. ‘She’s really an angel, Mama is, especially when I don’t feel well.’

Miss Hearne couldn’t think of anything to say. Something about him, so insincere. And staring at me like that, what’s the matter with me, is my skirt up? No, of course not. She tugged her skirt snug about her calves and resolutely turned the conversation towards a common denominator.

‘We’re in Saint Finbar’s here, I believe. That’s Father Quigley s parish, isn t it?

‘Yes, he’s the P.P. Isn’t he a caution?’

‘O, is that so? I heard he was a wonderful man,’ Miss Hearne said. Goodness knows, religion is a comfort, even in conversation. If we hadn’t the priests to talk about, where would we be half the time?

‘He’s very outspoken, I mean,’ Mrs Henry Rice corrected

herself, ‘I’ll tell you a story I heard only last week. And it’s the gospel truth.’

Mrs Henry Rice paused and looked sideways at Bernard. ‘Last week,’ she said, ‘Father Quigley was offered a new Communion rail for the church from a Mrs Brady that used to keep a bad house. And do you know what he told her?’

‘What Mrs Brady would that be?’ Miss Hearne said faintly, unsure that she had heard it right. A ‘bad house’ did she say? It certainly sounded like it. Well, that sort of place shouldn’t be mentioned, let alone mentioned in connection with the Church. You read about them in books, wicked houses, and who would think there were such places, right here in Belfast. She leaned forward, her black eyes nervous, her face open and eager. ‘Well, as I said, she’s the one that ran a bad house for men over on the Old Lodge tkoad,’ Mrs lkice said. ‘A terrible sort of woman. So, like all those bad women, she began to get afraid when she knew her time was coming near, and she decided to go to confession and mend her ways. The house was closecl up last year and she’s been a daily communicant ever since. So, a couple of weeks ago - I heard it from one of the ladies in the altar society - she went to see Father Quigley and said she wanted to present a new Communion rail to Stint Finbar’s. Wrought iron from Spain, all the finest work.’ Mrs Henry Rice paused to watch Miss Hearne’s reaction. ‘Well, I never!’ Miss Hearne said.

‘And do you know what Father Quigley said to her? He just drew himself up, such a big powerful stern man, you know what he looks like, and he said, “Look here, my good woman, let me ask you straight out, where did you get the money?” ‘

‘Good heavens,’ Miss Hearne said, thrilling to every word. ‘And what did she say to that, the creature?’

‘Well, that took her back, no denying. She just fretted and fussed and finally she said she made the money in her former business. Her business, if you please. So Father Quigley just looked clown at her, with that stiff look of his, and said to her, he said: “Woman,” he said, “do you think I’ll have the good

 

people of this parish kneeling down on their bended knees to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ with their elbows on the wages of sin and corruption?” That’s the very thing he said.’

‘And right too,’ Miss Hearne commented. ‘That was putting her in her place. I should think so, indeed.’

Bernard pulled the poker out of the coals and lit a cigarette against its reddened end. ‘Poor Mama,’ he said. ‘You always mix a story up. No, no, that wasn’t the way of it at all. You’ve forgotten what Mrs Brady said, right back to him.’

Mrs Henry Rice gave him a reproachful glance. ‘Never mind, Bernie. I did not forget. But I wouldn’t lower myself to repeat the insolence of a one like that Mrs Brady.’

‘But that’s the whole point,’ Bernard said, pushing the poker back among the coals. ‘Wait till I tell you her answer.’ And he leaned forward towards Miss Hearne, his white, fat face split in a smile of anti-clerical malice. His voice changed, mimicking the tones of the bad Mrs Brady.

‘She said to him: “Father, where do you think the money came from that Mary Magdalene used to anoint the feet of Our Blessed Lord? It didn’t come from selling apples,” she said. And that’s the real story about Father F. X. Quigley, if you want to know.’

When he said this, Bernard laughed. His cheeks wobbled like white pudding.

‘What a shocking disrespect for the priest,’ Miss Hearne said. Where did the ointment come from anyway? Sometimes it made you see that you should read your Douay and know it better in order to be able to give the lie to rascals like this fat lump. But for the life of her she couldn’t remember where Mary Magdalene had got the money. What matter, it was an out-and-out sin to quote Scripture to affront the priest. She put her teacup down.

‘The devil can quote Scripture to suit his purpose,’ she said. ‘just so,’ Mrs Henry Rice agreed. ‘But what else could you expect from the likes of Mrs Brady? No decent woman would talk to her.’

‘Well - when I think of it - that hussy I’ Miss Hearne said.

 

‘It’s downright blasphemy, that’s what it is, saying a thing like that in connection with Our Blessed Lord. O, my goodness, that reminds me. My picture. It’s of the Sacred Heart and I always hang it up as soon as I get in a new place. I mustn’t be keeping you. The hammer.’

‘The hammer. I forgot all about it,’ Mrs Henry Rice said. ‘Now, let me think. O, I know.’

She stood up, opened the door and yelled into the hall. ‘Mary! May-ree!’

A voice called back. ‘Ye-ess I’

‘Get the hammer out of the top drawer in the dresser in the attic,’ Mrs Henry Rice bawled. She closed the door and turned back to Miss Hearne.

‘Another cup of tea before you go?’

‘O, no, really, it’s been lovely. Just perfect, thank you very

much.’

‘She’s a new girl, you know,’ Mrs Henry Rice said, nodding towards the door. ‘I got her from the nuns at the convent. A good strong country girl. But they need a lot of breaking in, if you know’w what I mean.’

Miss Hearne, completely at home with this particular conversation, having heard it in all its combinations from her dear aunt and from her friends, said that if you got a good one it was all right, but sometimes you had a lot of trouble with them.

‘You have to be after them all the time,’ Mrs Henry Rice said, moving into the familiar groove of such talk. ‘You know, it’s a wonder the nuns don’t do more with them before they send them out to take a place. Badly trained, or not trained at all, is about the height of it.’

‘Even when these girls are trained, they’re not used to the city,’ Miss Hearne said. ‘I know the trouble friends of mine have had with convent-trained girls, taking up with soldiers and other rift-raft. Indeed, I often think the nuns are too strict. The girls behave like children as soon as …’

But she did not finish because at that moment there was a knock on the door and Mary came in. She was a tall, healthy girl with black irish hair, blue eyes and tirm breasts pushing

6

 

against the white apron of her maid’s uniform. Miss Hearne looked at her and thought she would do very nicely indeed. If you were civil to these girls, they often did little odd jobs that needed doing.

So she smiled at Mary and was introduced by Mrs Henry Rice. The hammer was given into her hands and she fumbled with it, saying thank you, and that she would return it as soon as she had finished hanging her picture. Mrs Henry Rice said there was no hurry and to let them know if she needed anything else, and then Miss Hearne went back up the two flights of stairs to her room.

She found a picture hook and began to nail the Sacred Heart over the head of the bed. And then, thinking back on the people downstairs, it occurred to her that while Bernard Rice was interesting in a horrible sort of way, he was also creepy crawly and the sort of person a woman would have to look out for. He looked nosey and she felt sure he was the sort of slyboots who would love prying into other people’s affairs. And saying the worst thing he could about what he found. Instinctively, she looked at her trunks and saw that they were locked, just keep them that way, she told herself. I wouldn’t put it past him to creep in here some day when I’m out. Still, his mother is certainly friendly, if a little soft where her darling boy is concerned. And the fire and the tea were nice and warming.

She stood back and surveyed the Sacred Heart. Prayers, she must say later. Meanwhile, she drew the curtains and lit the gas stove. With the electric light on and the gas stove spluttering, warming the white bones of its mantles into a rosy red, the new bed-sitting-room became much more cheerful. Miss Hearne felt quite satisfied after her cup of tea and biscuit, so, after unpacking some more of her things, she laid her flannel nightgown on the bed and turned the covers down. It had all gone very well really, and the cab driver had looked quite happy with the shilling she gave him for carrying the trunks upstairs. It should have been more, but he hadn’t said anything nasty. And that was the main thing. She was moved in, she had chatted with the landlady and as a bonus, she had a couple

of interesting stories to tell. The one about Father Quigley was not for mixed company, but it was certainly interesting. She decided to discard Bernard’s ending. It just wasn’t suitable and spoiled the whole point. And then there was Mrs Henry Rice and Bernard himself. They’d be something to talk about. Maybe some of the young O’Neills knew Bernard if he had been at Queen’s.

Miss Hearne unpacked the little travelling clock xvhich had come all the way from Paris as a gift to her dear aunt. It was only seven, too early to go to bed. But she was tired and tomorrow was Friday, with nothing to do but unpack. Besides, if she went to sleep soon, she wouldn’t need any supper.

She put the clock on the bed-table and switched on the little bed lamp. Then she undressed and knelt to say her prayers. Afterwards, she lay between the covers in the strange bed, watching the shadows of the new room. When the reddened mantles of the stove had cooled to whiteness and the chill of the night made goose-pimples on her forearms outside the covers, she looked over at her dear aunt and then turned her head to look up at the Sacred Heart. She said good night to them both, then switched off the bed light and lay, snuggled in, with only her nose and eyes out of the covers, remembering that both of them were there in l:hc darkness. They make all the difference, Miss Hearne thought, no matter what aunt was like at the end. When they’re with me, watching over me, a new place becomes home.

 

CHAPTER 2.

Her eyes, opening, saw the ceiling, the frozen light of what day? Sight, preceding comprehension, mercifully recorded familiar objects in the strangeness of the whole. Led the blind mind to memory; to this awakening.

She sat up, her hair falling around her shoulders, feeling a gelid draught through the flannel stuff of her nightgown. Her thighs and calves, warmed in the moist snuggle of sheets, were still lax, weary, asleep. The gilded face of her little travelling clock said ten past seven. She lay back, pulling the yellow blankets up to her chin and looked at the room.

A chair, broadbeamed, straightbacked, sat in the alcove by the bay window, an old pensioner staring out at the street. Near the bed, a dressing-table, made familiar by her bottle of cologne, her combs and brushes and her little round box of rouge. Across the worn carpet was a wardrobe of brown varnished wood with a long panel mirror set in its door. She looked in the mirror and saw the end of her bed, the small commotion of her feet ruffling the smooth tucked blankets. The wardrobe was ornamented with whorls and loops and on either side of the door mirror was a circle of light-coloured wood. The circles seemed to her like eyes, mournful wooden eyes on either side of the reflecting mirror nose. She looked away from those eyes to the white marble mantelpiece, cracked down one support, with its brass fender of Arabic design. Her Aunt D’Arcy said good day in silver and sepia-toned arrogance from the exact centre of this arrangement, while beside the gas fire a sagging, green-covered armchair waited its human burden. The carpet below the mantelpiece was worn to brown fibre threads. She hurried on, passing over the small washbasin, the bed-table with its green lamp, to reach the reassurance of her two big trunks, blacktopped, brassbound, ready to travel.

She twisted around and unhooked the heavy wool dressing gown from the bedpost. Put it on her sholders and slid her

 

feet out of bed into blue, fleecy slippers. Cold, a cold room. She went quickly to the gas fire and turned it on, hearing its startled plop as the match poked it into life. She spread her underthings to warm; then fled back across the worn carpet to bed. Fifteen minutes, she said, it will take fifteen minutes to heat the place at all.

There was no hurry. Friday, a dull day, a day with nothing at all to do. Although it would be interesting at breakfast to see what sort of food Mrs Henry Rrice gave and who the others “were. She lay abed twenty minutes, then washed in cold water and went shivering to the mean heat of the stove. She slipped on her underthings under the concealing envelope of her nightgown, a habit picked up at the Sacred Heart convent in Armagh and retained, although keeping warm had long supplanted the original motive of modesty, which occasioned the fumblings, the exertions and the slowness of the maneuvre. When she finally pulled the nightgown over her head, she was fully dressed, except for the dress itself. It was time for her morning hair-brushing exercise. She set great store by it: it kept one’s hair dark, she said, and if you did not wash the hair, ever, it kept its sheen and colour. Her hair, visible proof, was dark brown with a fine thickness and smooth lustre.

So each morning it was her custom to sit conscientiously at the mirror, her head bent to one side, tugging the brush along the thick rope of her hair, counting the strokes, thinking of nothing except the act of doing the exercise, her head jerking slightly with each long, strong stroke of the brush.

But this morning, hair brushing actually had to be hurried because it would never do to be late one’s first morning in a new place. Especially when there were other boarders to meet. She had said three, Mrs Henry Rice, were they men or women? Maybe, most likely, men, and what if one were charming?

BOOK: The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne
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