at his classmates, silly glee in profile. In a moment they will laugh more loudly, aware of my lack of rule and of the fees their papas pay.
—Tell me now, Stephen said, poking the boy’s shoulder with the book, what is a pier.
—A pier, sir, Armstrong said. A thing out in the waves. A kind of bridge. Kingstown pier, sir.
Some laughed again: mirthless but with meaning. Two in the back bench whispered. Yes. They knew: had never learned nor ever been innocent. All. With envy he watched their faces. Edith, Ethel, Gerty, Lily. Their likes: their breaths, too, sweetened with tea and jam, their bracelets tittering in the struggle.
—Kingstown pier, Stephen said. Yes, a disappointed bridge.
The words troubled their gaze.
—How, sir? Comyn asked. A bridge is across a river.
For Haines’s chapbook. No-one here to hear. Tonight deftly amid wild drink and talk, to pierce the polished mail of his mind. What then? A jester at the court of his master, indulged and disesteemed, winning a clement master’s praise. Why had they chosen all that part? Not wholly for the smooth caress. For them too history was a tale like any other too often heard, their land a pawnshop.
Had Pyrrhus not fallen by a beldam’s hand in Argos or Julius Caesar not been knifed to death? They are not to be thought away. Time has branded them and fettered they are lodged in the room of the infinite possibilities they have ousted. But can those have been possible seeing that they never were? Or was that only possible which came to pass? Weave, weaver of the wind.
—Tell us a story, sir.
—Oh, do, sir. A ghoststory.
—Where do you begin in this? Stephen asked, opening another book.
—Weep no more, Comyn said.
—Go on then, Talbot.
—And the history, sir?
—After, Stephen said. Go on, Talbot.
A swarthy boy opened a book and propped it nimbly under the breastwork of his satchel. He recited jerks of verse with odd glances at the text: