A deep bass note in response came from the upper tier, followed by coughs of protest along the other benches.
The professor paused in his reading and called the next name:
A smile flew across Stephen’s face as he thought of his friend’s studies.
—Try Leopardstown! Said a voice from the bench behind.
Stephen glanced up quickly but Moynihan’s snoutish face, outlined on the grey light, was impassive. A formula was given out. Amid the rustling of the notebooks Stephen turned back again and said:
—Give me some paper for God’s sake.
—Are you as bad as that? asked Moynihan with a broad grin.
He tore a sheet from his scribbler and passed it down, whispering:
—In case of necessity any layman or woman can do it.
The formula which he wrote obediently on the sheet of paper, the coiling and uncoiling calculations of the professor, the spectre-like symbols of force and velocity fascinated and jaded Stephen’s mind. He had heard some say that the old professor was an atheist freemason. O the grey dull day! It seemed a limbo of painless patient consciousness through which souls of mathematicians might wander, projecting long slender fabrics from plane to plane of ever rarer and paler twilight, radiating swift eddies to the last verges of a universe ever vaster, farther and more impalpable.
—So we must distinguish between elliptical and ellipsoidal. Perhaps some of you gentlemen may be familiar with the works of Mr W. S. Gilbert. In one of his songs he speaks of the billiard sharp who is condemned to play:
On a cloth untrue
With a twisted cue
And elliptical billiard balls.
—He means a ball having the form of the ellipsoid of the principal axes of which I spoke a moment ago.
Moynihan leaned down towards Stephen’s ear and murmured:
—What price ellipsoidal balls! chase me, ladies, I’m in the cavalry!
His fellow student’s rude humour ran like a gust through the cloister of Stephen’s mind, shaking into gay life limp priestly vestments that hung upon the walls, setting them to sway and caper in a sabbath of misrule. The forms of the community emerged from the gust-blown vestments, the dean of studies, the portly florid bursar with his cap of grey hair, the president, the little priest with feathery hair who wrote devout verses, the squat peasant form of the professor of economics, the tall form of the young professor of mental science discussing on the landing a case of conscience with his class like a giraffe cropping high leafage among a herd of antelopes, the grave troubled prefect of the sodality, the plump round-headed professor of Italian with his rogue’s eyes. They came ambling and stumbling, tumbling and capering, kilting their gowns for leap frog, holding one another back, shaken with deep false laughter, smacking one another behind and laughing at their rude malice, calling to one another by familiar nicknames, protesting with sudden dignity at some rough usage, whispering two and two behind their hands.