During their encounter in the park, the cad’s innocent enquiry about the time was misunderstood by Earwicker as either some sort of proposition or accusation. HCE managed to incriminate himself through a statement of preemptive denial, in effect starting the rumor chain, his widespread disrepute and the dissemination of a slanderous ballad about him.
The bemused cad goes home to his ‘bit of strife’ (wife). She in turn relates it over tea to a cleric, a jesuit priest. References to teatime, that most genteel conduit of gossip, are threaded through the early gestation of the rumour …‘Hegesippus over a hup a’chee…’ ‘jist a timblespoon!’ ‘’…between cuppled lips…’ ‘teaoastally’. Though intended to ‘go no further than the jesuit’s cloth the snippet is overheard, though probably not by accident, and passed on to Philly Thurnston, a ‘layteacher of rural science and orthophonethics’. He appears to be a portly man in his mid forties who was placing a bet at the horse races (the ‘hippic runfields’) when the rumour found his ear. As with the language of teatime, that of horseracing forms part of the fabric of the text at this point, quickening in pace to become reminiscent of commentary, perhaps heard on a racecourse tannoy or the radio in a pub or bookies – ‘Encourage Hackney Plate was captured by two noses in a stablecloth finish ek and nek…’ and so on. I like the way in which ‘stablecloth’ neatly portmanteaus teatime, priesthood and racing into a single optimally placed word (FW p.38.9 – 39. 2).
At the races the rumour of HCE’s sexual indiscretion in Phoenix Park spreads to an apparently apnoeic tipster, Frisky Shorty and thence to his brother, Treakle Tom, a wandering alcoholic. Tom is a frequenter of common lodging houses, sleeps in the nude in strange men’s beds and partakes of raw beverages favoured by the vagrant street drunkard – ‘…tots of hell fire, red biddy, bull dog, blue rain and creeping jenny,..’ these are acquired at numerous pubs which Joyce, goes on to list with familiar relish. What began as a storm in a teacup, ‘jist a timblespoon’ can be seen swelling to more serious proportions and taking on a sinister momentum. In this street-level milieu we are introduced to a trio of down and out characters such as Peter Cloran, ‘stoneybroke cashdrapers executive, Mildew Lisa, ‘an ex private secretary of no fixed abode’ sleeping rough in the doorways of the civic capital, and the man who will eventually compose the notorious ballad about Earwicker, frosty Hosty, depressed and starving musician, an ‘illstarred beachbusker’ on the verge of ‘selfabyss’ (suicide) (FW p. 38.34 – 40.23).
Virally spreading scandal seems to stimulate the trio into a kind of shuffling party mood, as if Earwicker’s immanent fall alleviates some of their own misfortune. They set off from their dossing place to cross the city, ‘Ebblinn’s chill hamlet’ navigating by underground stations in an increasingly vocal chorus line, waking and gathering revellers along the way. They stop briefly at a pawnbrokers to reclaim a set of false teeth, and rather longer at ‘Old Sot’s Hole’, Saint Cecily. Drinks are taken on the way as the group go in and out of hostelries and it seems a kitty is formed to fund the merry band in their purpose. A wiping occurs – in this instance the wiping of their ‘laughleaking lips on their sleeves,..’ (but which presages other ‘wipings’ and running, recurrent references to Buckley’s shooting of the Russian general, glimpsed with varying degrees of clarity, like a distorted refraction just below the surface of the language. Here it is manifested as ‘…bouckaleens shout their roscan generally…’ FW p. 42.10 – 11). And here the possibility of the ballad is raised as the natural, popular form through which the agitated crowd should express itself and through which the bizzarly dualistic nature of its subject should be memorialized – ‘ …the vilest bogeyer but most attractionable avatar the world has ever had to explain for.’ (FW p.42.15 – 16).
The band has now swelled to the fantastical proportions – a ’singleminded supercrowed’. The ‘timblespoon’ has ‘poured forth’, overflowing and ‘fullyfilling the visional area’ (FW p. 42.18 – 22), until it seems that the whole riverside populous of Dublin is on the move, an Ensor-like parade ridiculing Earwicker; a paranoiac nightmare. Joyce treats us to another colourful list, this time of types found in the crowd – politicians and journalists, street ruffians, truant officers, pawnbrokers, professionals, bricklayers and other tradesmen and so on and on (FW p. 42.27 – 43. 21).
The rumour, progressed from whisper to street chant to song, is finally composed as a ballad. It is committed to paper, complete with ‘rough red woodcut’ header and published. Like a street bill Earwicker’s ‘secret’ is scattered far and wide, blown about by the wind for all to read and pass on across all the land and beyond (FW p. 43. 22 – 30). The ballad gets orchestrated as instruments are added – a fiddle, a flute, a horn, a cello. The band and rabble choir are given a leader, an archetypal ‘snowycrested’ conductor, Hitchcock, who with a signal unifies the revels into the public performance of frosty Hosty’s riotous rann. Some of Earwicker’s other monikers are aired but the subject of the scandalous ballad is finally and emphatically named as Persse O’Reilly. A delirious crescendo follows, culminating in another of Joyce’s thunderwords, an angular, percussive, crashing fall to the actual music and lyrics of:
“The Ballad of Persse O’Reilley” (FW p. 44 – 47)
All together now…