She laughed herself this time good-humouredly and then added quickly:
"But tell him to come in, Mary Jane, and close the door. I hope to goodness he didn't hear me."
At that moment the hall-door was opened and Mr. Browne came in from the doorstep, laughing as if his heart would break. He was dressed in a long green overcoat with mock astrakhan cuffs and collar and wore on his head an oval fur cap. He pointed down the snow-covered quay from where the sound of shrill prolonged whistling was borne in.
"Teddy will have all the cabs in Dublin out," he said.
Gabriel advanced from the little pantry behind the office, struggling into his overcoat and, looking round the hall, said:
"Gretta not down yet?"
"She's getting on her things, Gabriel," said Aunt Kate.
"Who's playing up there?" asked Gabriel.
"Nobody. They're all gone."
"O no, Aunt Kate," said Mary Jane. "Bartell D'Arcy and Miss O'Callaghan aren't gone yet."
"Someone is fooling at the piano anyhow," said Gabriel.
Mary Jane glanced at Gabriel and Mr. Browne and said with a shiver:
"It makes me feel cold to look at you two gentlemen muffled up like that. I wouldn't like to face your journey home at this hour."
"I'd like nothing better this minute," said Mr. Browne stoutly, "than a rattling fine walk in the country or a fast drive with a good spanking goer between the shafts."
"We used to have a very good horse and trap at home," said Aunt Julia sadly.
"The never-to-be-forgotten Johnny," said Mary Jane, laughing.
Aunt Kate and Gabriel laughed too.
"Why, what was wonderful about Johnny?" asked Mr. Browne.
"The late lamented Patrick Morkan, our grandfather, that is," explained Gabriel, "commonly known in his later years as the old gentleman, was a glue-boiler."
"O, now, Gabriel," said Aunt Kate, laughing, "he had a starch mill."
"Well, glue or starch," said Gabriel, "the old gentleman had a horse by the name of Johnny. And Johnny used to work in the old gentleman's mill, walking round and round in order to drive the mill. That was all very well; but now comes the tragic part about Johnny. One fine day the old gentleman thought he'd like to drive out with the quality to a military review in the park."
"The Lord have mercy on his soul," said Aunt Kate compassionately.
"Amen," said Gabriel. "So the old gentleman, as I said, harnessed Johnny and put on his very best tall hat and his very best stock collar and drove out in grand style from his ancestral mansion somewhere near Back Lane, I think."
Everyone laughed, even Mrs. Malins, at Gabriel's manner and Aunt Kate said:
"O, now, Gabriel, he didn't live in Back Lane, really. Only the mill was there."
"Out from the mansion of his forefathers," continued Gabriel, "he drove with Johnny. And everything went on beautifully until Johnny came in sight of King Billy's statue: and whether he fell in love with the horse King Billy sits on or whether he thought he was back again in the mill, anyhow he began to walk round the statue."
Gabriel paced in a circle round the hall in his goloshes amid the laughter of the others.
"Round and round he went," said Gabriel, "and the old gentleman, who was a very pompous old gentleman, was highly indignant. 'Go on, sir! What do you mean, sir? Johnny! Johnny! Most extraordinary conduct! Can't understand the horse!"
The peal of laughter which followed Gabriel's imitation of the incident was interrupted by a resounding knock at the hall door. Mary Jane ran to open it and let in Freddy Malins. Freddy Malins, with his hat well back on his head and his shoulders humped with cold, was puffing and steaming after his exertions.
"I could only get one cab," he said.
"O, we'll find another along the quay," said Gabriel.
"Yes," said Aunt Kate. "Better not keep Mrs. Malins standing in the draught."
Mrs. Malins was helped down the front steps by her son and Mr. Browne and, after many manoeuvres, hoisted into the cab. Freddy Malins clambered in after her and spent a long time settling her on the seat, Mr. Browne helping him with advice. At last she was settled comfortably and Freddy Malins invited Mr. Browne into the cab. There was a good deal of confused talk, and then Mr. Browne got into the cab. The cabman settled his rug over his knees, and bent down for the address. The confusion grew greater and the cabman was directed differently by Freddy Malins and Mr. Browne, each of whom had his head out through a window of the cab. The difficulty was to know where to drop Mr. Browne along the route, and Aunt Kate, Aunt Julia and Mary Jane helped the discussion from the doorstep with cross-directions and contradictions and abundance of laughter. As for Freddy Malins he was speechless with laughter. He popped his head in and out of the window every moment to the great danger of his hat, and told his mother how the discussion was progressing, till at last Mr. Browne shouted to the bewildered cabman above the din of everybody's laughter:
"Do you know Trinity College?"
"Yes, sir," said the cabman.
"Well, drive bang up against Trinity College gates," said Mr. Browne, "and then we'll tell you where to go. You understand now?"
"Yes, sir," said the cabman.
"Make like a bird for Trinity College."
"Right, sir," said the cabman.
The horse was whipped up and the cab rattled off along the quay amid a chorus of laughter and adieus.
Gabriel had not gone to the door with the others. He was in a dark part of the hall gazing up the staircase. A woman was standing near the top of the first flight, in the shadow also. He could not see her face but he could see the terra-cotta and salmon-pink panels of her skirt which the shadow made appear black and white. It was his wife. She was leaning on the banisters, listening to something. Gabriel was surprised at her stillness and strained his ear to listen also. But he could hear little save the noise of laughter and dispute on the front steps, a few chords struck on the piano and a few notes of a man's voice singing.
He stood still in the gloom of the hall, trying to catch the air that the voice was singing and gazing up at his wife. There was grace and mystery in her attitude as if she were a symbol of something. He asked himself what is a woman standing on the stairs in the shadow, listening to distant music, a symbol of. If he were a painter he would paint her in that attitude. Her blue felt hat would show off the bronze of her hair against the darkness and the dark panels of her skirt would show off the light ones. Distant Music he would call the picture if he were a painter.
The hall-door was closed; and Aunt Kate, Aunt Julia and Mary Jane came down the hall, still laughing.