1) An elderly priest is dying in his home, where he is cared for by his two sisters.
2) They are sad to lose him, but not everyone is sure about the old man.
3) Even the young boy who was his friend has mixed feelings about his death.
4) There was no hope for him this time: it was the third stroke.
5) Night after night I had passed the house and studied the lighted square of window;
6) and night after night I had found it lighted in the same way, faintly and evenly.
7) If he was dead, I thought, I would see the reflection of candles behind the drawn Curtain, because I knew that two candles were always set at the head of a dead body.
8) He had often said to me: I am not long for this world, and I had not believed him.
9) Now I knew his Words were true.
10) Every night, as I stared up at the window, I said softly to myself the word paralysis.
11) It had always sounded strange in my ears, but now it was like the name of some evil and sinful being.
12) It filled me with fear, and yet I wanted to be nearer to it and to look at its deadly work.
13) Old Cotter was sitting at the fire, smoking, when I came downstairs to supper.
14) While my aunt was spooning out my stirabout, he said, as if returning to some former remark of his,
15) 'No, I wouldn't say he was exactly... but there was something strange about him.
16) I'll tell you my opinion...'
17) He began to smoke his pipe, no doubt arranging his opinion in his mind.
18) 'Annoying old fool!
19) When we knew him first he used to be rather interesting, but I soon grew tired of him and his endless stories.
20) 'I have my own ideas about it,' he said.
21) 'I think it was one of those... peculiar cases.'
22) He began to smoke again, without telling us his ideas.
23) My uncle saw me staring and said to me, 'Well, so your old friend is gone, you'll be sorry to hear.'
24) 'Who?' said I.
25) 'Father Flynn.'
26) 'Is he dead?'
27) 'Mr Cotter has just told us. He was passing by the house.'
28) I knew that I was under observation, so l continued eating as if the news had not interested me.
29) My uncle explained to old Cotter, 'The boy and Father Flynn were great friends.
30) The old fellow taught him a great deal, mind you, and they say he had a great fondness for him.'
31) 'God have mercy on his soul,' said my aunt, crossing herself.
32) Old Cotter looked at me for a while.
33) I felt that his little round black eyes were examining me, but I would not satisfy him by looking up from my plate.
34) He returned to his pipe and finally spat rudely into the fireplace.
35) 'I wouldn't like children of mine,' he said, 'to talk too much to a man like that.'
36) 'How do you mean, Mr Cotter?' asked my aunt.
37) 'What I mean is,' said old Cotter, 'it's bad for children.
38) My idea is, let a young boy run about and play with boys of his own age. Am I right, Jack?'
39) 'That's what I'm always saying to him,' said my uncle.
40) 'When I was a boy, every morning of my life I had a cold bath winter and summer.
41) And that's why I'm the man I am now.
42) Education is all very fine...
43) Mr Cotter might have a slice of that cold meat,' he added to my aunt.
44) 'No, no, not for me,' said old Cotter.
45) My aunt brought out the dish of meat and laid it on the table.
46) 'But why do you think it's not good for children, Mr Cotter?' she asked.
47) 'It's bad for children,' said old Cotter, 'because their minds are so impressionable.
48) When children see things like that, you know, it has an effect...'
49) I filled my mouth with stirabout, because I was frightened I might express my anger.
50) Stupid old red-nosed fool!
51) It was late when I fell asleep.
52) Though I was angry with old Cotter for referring to me as a child, the meaning of his unfinished sentences puzzled me.
53) In the dark of my room I imagined that I saw again the heavy grey face of the paralysed man.
54) I pulled the blankets over my head and tried to think of Christmas. But the grey face still followed me.
55) It murmured, and I understood that it desired to confess something.
56) I felt my soul moving away into some pleasant and sinful region, and there again I found Father Flynn's grey face waiting for me.
57) It began to confess to me in a murmuring voice, and I wondered why it smiled continually.
58) But then I remembered that it had died of paralysis, and I felt that I, too, was smiling weakly, as if I were the priest, listening to his confession and releasing him from his sin.
59) The next morning after breakfast, I went down to look at the modest little house in Great Britain Street.
60) Today it was closed, and a black bow was tied to the doorknocker, with a card.
61) I approached and read:
62) July 1st 1895
63) The Reverend James Flynn
64) (formerly of Saint Catherine's Church, Meath Street)
65) aged sixty-five years.
66) Rest In Peace
67) The reading of the card persuaded me that he was dead, and I was disturbed to find myself unsure what to do.
68) If he had not been dead, I would have gone into the little dark room at the back of the house to find him sitting in his armchair by the fire, wrapped up so tightly in his overcoat that he could hardly breathe.
69) Perhaps my aunt would have given me a packet of snuff for him, and this present would have woken him from his bored, sleepy state.
70) It was always I who emptied the packet into his black snuffbox, because his hands shook too much.
71) Even as he raised his large, trembling hand to his nose, little clouds of snuff came through his fingers over the front of his coat.
72) It may have been these constant showers of snuff which gave his ancient priestly clothes their green faded look.
73) The red handkerchief with which he tried to brush away the fallen snuff was no use at all, blackened as it always was with the snuff stains of a week.
74) I wished to go in and look at him, but I had not the courage to knock.
75) I walked away slowly along the sunny side of the street, reading the theatrical advertisements in the shop windows as I went.
76) I found it strange that neither I nor the day seemed in a sorrowful mood, and I felt annoyed at discovering in myself a feeling of freedom.
77) It was as if I had been freed from something by Father Flynn's death.
78) I wondered at this, because, as my uncle had said the night before, he had taught me a great deal.
79) He had studied in the Irish college in Rome and had taught me to speak Latin properly.
80) He had told me stories about the early Christians and about Napoleon Bonaparte, and he had explained to me the meaning of the different ceremonies of the mass.
81) Sometimes he had amused himself by putting difficult questions to me, asking me what one should do in certain circumstances.
82) His questions showed me how complicated and mysterious were certain things about the church which I had always considered simple.
83) The duties of the priest seemed so weighty to me that I wondered how anybody had ever found in himself the courage to carry them out.
84) I was not surprised when he told me that priests had written enormous books in order to provide answers to all these difficult questions.
85) Often, when I thought of this, I could make no answer, or only a very foolish and hesitant one; he used to smile and nod his head two or three times.
86) Sometimes he had made me learn prayers by heart, and as I repeated them, he used to smile thoughtfully and nod his head, now and then pushing large quantities of snuff up his nose, first on the left side, then the right.
87) When he smiled, he used to uncover his big, discoloured teeth and let his tongue lie on his lower lip - a habit which had made me feel uneasy at the beginning of our friendship, before I knew him well.
88) As I walked along in the sun, I remembered old Cotter's words and tried to remember what had happened afterwards in the dream.
89) I remembered that I had noticed long curtains and a swinging, old-fashioned lamp.
90) I felt that I had been very far away, in some land where the customs were strange in Persia, I thought.
91) But I could not remember the end of the dream.
92) In the evening, my aunt took me with her to visit the house where Father Flynn lay.
93) It was after sunset, but the windows of the houses that looked to the west reflected the deep gold of a great bank of clouds.
94) Nannie received us in the hall and my aunt shook hands with her.
95) The old woman pointed upwards with a questioning look, and when my aunt nodded, started climbing slowly up the narrow stairs in front of us.
96) On the first floor, she stopped and signalled us forward encouragingly, towards the open door of the bedroom.
97) My aunt went in and the old woman, seeing that I hesitated to enter, began to signal to me again repeatedly with her hand.
98) I went in on tiptoe.
99) The room, with curtains drawn, was full of dark golden light, in which the candles looked like pale, thin flames.
100) He was in a coffin.
101) We all knelt down at the foot of the bed.
102) I pretended to pray, but I could not gather my thoughts because of the sound of Nannie repeating her prayers.
103) I noticed how clumsily her skirt was attached at the back and how worn her boots were on one side.
104) The idea came to me that the old priest was smiling as he lay there in his coffin.
105) But no.
106) When we got up and went to the head of the bed, I saw that he was not smiling.
107) There he lay, grey-faced and serious, dressed for the mass, his large hands loosely holding a chalice.
108) There was a heavy smell in the room - the flowers.
109) We crossed ourselves and came away.
110) In the little room downstairs we found Eliza seated in Father Flynn's armchair.
111) I felt my way towards my usual chair in the corner, while Nannie brought out a bottle of sherry and some wine glasses.
112) She urged me to take some biscuits, but I refused because I thought I would make too much noise eating them.
113) She went over quietly to the sofa, where she sat down behind her sister.
114) No one spoke; we all stared at the empty fireplace.
115) My aunt waited until Eliza sighed, and then said, 'Ah, well, he's gone to a better world.'
116) Eliza sighed again and bowed her head in agreement.
117) 'Did he... peacefully?' asked my aunt after a while.
118) 'Oh, quite peacefully,' said Eliza.
119) 'You couldn't tell when the breath went out of him.
120) He had a beautiful death, God be praised.'
121) 'And everything...?'
122) 'Father O'Rourke was with him on Tuesday and said the final prayers with him and everything.'
123) 'He knew then?'
124) 'He was quite ready, quite calm.'
125) 'He looks quite calm,' said my aunt.
126) 'That's what the woman we had in to wash him said.
127) She said he just looked as if he was asleep, he looked so peaceful and calm.'
128) My aunt drank a little sherry from her glass and said,
129) 'Well anyway, Miss Flynn, it must be a great comfort for you to know that you did all you could for him.
130) You were both very kind to him, I must say.'
131) 'Ah, poor James!' said Eliza.
132) 'God knows we did all we could, as poor as we are. We wouldn't see him go without anything, while he was living.'
133) Nannie had leaned her head against the sofa pillow and seemed about to fall asleep.
134) 'There's poor Nannie,' said Eliza looking at her, 'she's worn out.
135) All the work we had, she and me, getting in the woman to wash him and then dressing him and then the coffin and then arranging about the funeral mass!
136) If it hadn't been for Father O'Rourke, I don't know what we'd have done at all.
137) It was him who brought us all the flowers and wrote out the notice for the newspaper and organized all poor James's papers.'
138) 'Wasn't that good of him?' said my aunt.
139) Eliza closed her eyes and shook her head slowly.
140) 'Ah, there's no friends like the old friends,' she said,
141) 'when all is said and done, no friends that anybody can trust.'
142) 'Indeed, that's true,' said my aunt.
143) 'And I'm sure now that he's gone to his everlasting reward he won't forget you and all your kindness to him.'
144) 'Ah, poor James!' Eliza stopped and then said thoughtfully,
145) 'Mind you, I noticed there was something strange about him lately.
146) Whenever l'd bring his soup in, I'd find him with his prayer book fallen on the floor, lying back in the chair with his mouth open.
147) But still, he kept on saying that before the summer was over, he'd go out for a drive one fine day, just to see the old house where we were all born, and take me and Nannie with him.
148) He had his mind set on that... Poor James!'
149) 'God have mercy on his soul!' said my aunt.
150) Eliza wiped her eyes with her handkerchief.
151) 'The duties of the priesthood, they were too much for him,' she said.
152) 'And then his life didn't go quite the way he wanted.'
153) 'Yes,' said my aunt, 'he was a disappointed man. You could see that.'
154) A silence took possession of the little room.
155) We waited respectfully for Eliza to break the silence, and after a long pause she said slowly,
156) 'It was that chalice he broke, during mass.
157) That was the beginning of it.
158) Of course it wasn't his fault.
159) But poor James was so nervous, God be merciful to him!'
160) 'And was it that?' said my aunt. 'I heard something…'
161) Eliza nodded.
162) 'It affected his mind. After that he was always wandering about by himself, talking to no one.
163) So one night he was wanted to visit someone who was dying, and they couldn't find him anywhere.
164) So they looked in the church. And what do you think?
165) There he was, sitting up by himself in the dark in his confession box, wide awake and laughing softly to himself!'
166) She stopped suddenly as if to listen.
167) I, too, listened, but there was no sound in the house, and I knew that the old priest was lying still in his coffin as we had seen him, unsmiling and grey-faced in death, an empty chalice on his chest.
168) Eliza went on, 'Wide awake and laughing to himself.
169) So then, of course, when they saw that, that made them think that there was something wrong with him...'