—Poor Parnell! he cried loudly. My dead king!
He sobbed loudly and bitterly.
Stephen, raising his terror-stricken face, saw that his father’s eyes were full of tears.
The fellows talked together in little groups.
One fellow said:
—They were caught near the Hill of Lyons.
—Who caught them?
—Mr Gleeson and the minister. They were on a car. The same fellow added:
—A fellow in the higher line told me.
—But why did they run away, tell us?
—I know why, Cecil Thunder said. Because they had fecked cash out of the rector’s room.
—Who fecked it?
—Kickham’s brother. And they all went shares in it.
—But that was stealing. How could they have done that?
—A fat lot you know about it, Thunder! Wells said. I know why they scut.
—Tell us why.
—I was told not to, Wells said.
—O, go on, Wells, all said. You might tell us. We won’t let it out.
Stephen bent forward his head to hear. Wells looked round to see if anyone was coming. Then he said secretly:
—You know the altar wine they keep in the press in the sacristy?
—Well, they drank that and it was found out who did it by the smell. And that’s why they ran away, if you want to know.
And the fellow who had spoken first said:
—Yes, that’s what I heard too from the fellow in the higher line.
The fellows all were silent. Stephen stood among them, afraid to speak, listening. A faint sickness of awe made him feel weak. How could they have done that? He thought of the dark silent sacristy. There were dark wooden presses there where the crimped surplices lay quietly folded. It was not the chapel but still you had to speak under your breath. It was a holy place. He remembered the summer evening he had been there to be dressed as boatbearer, the evening of the Procession to the little altar in the wood. A strange and holy place. The boy that held the censer had swung it lifted by the middle chain to keep the coals lighting. That was called charcoal: and it had burned quietly as the fellow had swung it gently and had given off a weak sour smell. And then when all were vested he had stood holding out the boat to the rector and the rector had put a spoonful of incense in it and it had hissed on the red coals.
The fellows were talking together in little groups here and there on the playground. The fellows seemed to him to have grown smaller: that was because a sprinter had knocked him down the day before, a fellow out of second of grammar. He had been thrown by the fellow’s machine lightly on the cinder path and his spectacles had been broken in three pieces and some of the grit of the cinders had gone into his mouth.
That was why the fellows seemed to him smaller and farther away and the goalposts so thin and far and the soft grey sky so high up. But there was no play on the football grounds for cricket was coming: and some said that Barnes would be prof and some said it would be Flowers. And all over the playgrounds they were playing rounders and bowling twisters and lobs. And from here and from there came the sounds of the cricket bats through the soft grey air. They said: pick, pack, pock, puck: little drops of water in a fountain slowly falling in the brimming bowl.