Mrs. Mooney, a determined woman and a butcher's daughter, had married her father's foreman and opened a butcher's shop. However, her husband turned to alcohol and ruined their business, eventually forcing her to separate from him and take care of their children. She then opened a boarding house in Hardwicke Street, which attracted a mix of tourists, clerks, and occasionally music hall artists.
Her daughter, Polly, was a slim 19-year-old girl with light hair and grey-green eyes. Mrs. Mooney initially sent her to work as a typist, but brought her back home due to an inappropriate relationship with a disreputable man.
Polly flirted with the young men at the boarding house, but her mother knew none of them were serious. However, she soon noticed something going on between Polly and one of the young men, Mr. Doran.
Mrs. Mooney watched the pair closely but did not intervene, allowing the affair to continue. Eventually, she decided it was time to confront Mr. Doran about the situation. She believed that the only way to make up for the loss of her daughter's honor was through marriage. She was confident that she would win the argument, as Mr. Doran was a serious man with a good job and a reputation to uphold.
She dealt with moral problems as a cleaver deals with meat: and in this case she had made up her mind.
Mr. Doran, on the other hand, was very anxious about the situation. He had tried to shave but his hand was too unsteady, and he worried about the consequences of his actions. He knew that if word got out about the affair, he could lose his job and his reputation. He also worried about how his family would react to the news, as they would likely look down on Polly and her mother's boarding house.
He could not make up his mind whether to like her or despise her for what she had done.
As Mrs. Mooney prepared to confront Mr. Doran, Polly sat on her bed, crying and wondering what she should do. Mr. Doran tried to comfort her, but he was unsure of what to do himself. He knew that he had to make a decision, either to marry Polly or to run away from the situation.
In the end, Mrs. Mooney called Polly downstairs to speak with Mr. Doran, and Polly went to the banisters, ready to face the consequences of their actions.