YOU, COCHRANE, WHAT CITY SENT FOR HIM?
-- Tarentum, sir.
-- Very good. Well?
-- There was a battle, sir.
-- Very good. Where?
The boy's blank face asked the blank window.
Fabled by the daughters of memory. And yet it was in some way if not as memory fabled it. A phrase, then, of impatience, thud of Blake's wings of excess. I hear the ruin of all space, shattered glass and toppling masonry, and time one livid final flame. What's left us then?
-- I forgot the place, sir. 279 B.C.
-- Asculum, Stephen said, glancing at the name and date in the gorescarred book.
-- Yes, sir. And he said: Another victory like that and we are done for.
That phrase the world had remembered. A dull ease of the mind. From a hill above a corpsestrewn plain a general speaking to his officers, leaned upon his spear. Any general to any officers. They lend ear.
-- You, Armstrong, Stephen said. What was the end of Pyrrhus?
-- End of Pyrrhus, sir?
-- I know, sir. Ask me, sir, Comyn said.
-- Wait. You, Armstrong. Do you know anything about Pyrrhus?
A bag of figrolls lay snugly in Armstrong's satchel. He curled them between his palms at whiles and swallowed them softly. Crumbs adhered to the tissues of his lips. A sweetened boy's breath. Welloff people, proud that their eldest son was in the navy. Vico Road, Dalkey.
-- Pyrrhus, sir? Pyrrhus, a pier.
All laughed. Mirthless high malicious laughter. Armstrong looked round 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.
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