—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 tissue 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 water. A kind of a 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.