Overhead the sky was winter clear, the stars merry, eternal, the whole heaven brilliant in its silent, stupendous song, its perpetual Magnificat; but Denis Donohoe made the rest of the journey in a black silence, gloom in the rigid figure, the stooping shoulders, the dangling legs; and the hills seemed to draw their grim shadows around his tragic ride to the lonely light in his mother’s cabin on the verge of the dead brown bog.
There was a continuous clatter of conversation that rose and fell and broke like the waves on the beach, there was the dull shuffling of uneasy feet on the ground, the tinkling of glasses, the rattle of bottles, and over it all the half hysterical laugh of a tipsy woman. Above the racket a penetrating, quivering voice was raised in song.
Now and again bleary eyes were raised to, the stage, shadowy in a fog of tobacco smoke. The figure on the boards strutted about, made some fantastic steps, the face pallid in the streaky light, the mouth scarlet as a tulip for a moment as it opened wide, the muscles about the lips wiry and distinct from much practice, the words of the song coming in a vehement nasal falsetto and in a brogue acquired in the Bowery. The white face of the man who accompanied the singer on the piano was raised for a moment in a tired gesture that was also a protest; in the eyes of the singer as they met those of the accompanist was an expression of cynical Celtic humour; in the smouldering gaze of the pianist was the patient, stubborn soul of the Slav. The look between these entertainers, one from Connacht the other from Poland, was a little act of mutual commiseration and a mutual expression of contempt for the noisy descendants of the Lost Tribes who made merry in the place.
A Cockney who had exchanged Houndsditch for the Bowery leered up broadly at the Celt prancing about the stage. He turned to the companion who sat drinking with him, a tall, bony half-caste, her black eyes dancing in a head that quivered from an ague acquired in Illinois.
“’E’s all ryght, is Paddy,” said the voice from Houndsditch. He pointed a thumb that was a certificate of villainy in the direction of the stage.
“Sure,” said the coloured lady, whose ancestry rambled back away Alabama. She looked up at the stage with her bold eyes.
“I know him,” she said, thoughtfully. “And I like him,” she added grinning. “We all like him. He’s one of the boys.”
“Wot price me?” said the Houndsditch man.
“Oh, you’re good, too,” said the coloured lady. “Blow in another cocktail, honey.” She struck her breast where the uneasy bone showed through the dusky skin. “I’ve a fearful thirst right there.”
Little puckers gathered about the small, humorous eyes of the Cockney as he looked at her. “My,” he said, “you ’ave got a thirst and a capacity, Ole Sahara!”
The coloured lady raised the cocktail to her fat lips, and as she did so there was a sudden racket, men shouting, women clapping their hands, the voice of the tipsy woman dominant in its hysteria over the uproar. The singer was bowing profuse acknowledgments from the stage, his eyes, sly in their cynical humour, upon the face of the Slav at the piano, his head thrown back, the pallor of his face ghastly.