Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1205
Shabbily dressed, Francis McPhillip comes to the door of the public lodging house. With the caution born of necessity, he waits in the doorway until he is sure he is not being followed, keeping his hand inside his raincoat to feel the reassuring butt of his pistol. For six months, he has been a hunted man, hiding out in the wild mountains.
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In October, Francis had killed the secretary of the Farmers’ Union. His orders from the revolutionary organization were to use his gun only if necessary; after the killing, the organization disavowed his act and expelled him. A lone fugitive since then, he is back in Dublin to see his family.
Francis searches among the public rooms crowded with Dublin’s poor. In the dining room, he finds the man he wants to see: Gypo Nolan. Gypo is eating from a huge plate of cabbage and bacon he stole from a locker. Francis sits down and inquires hoarsely of Gypo if the police are still watching his parents’ house. At first, Gypo only grunts in response, then he says he thinks the coast is clear. After eating voraciously from Gypo’s plate, Francis slips away.
Gypo thinks stolidly of his former companion in the organization, then he reflects bitterly on his empty pockets and on the fact that he cannot buy a bed that night. He tries to link up the two facts, but Gypo thinks only with great difficulty. He was Francis’s companion at the time of the murder, and the organization expelled him, too. Without Francis and his agile brain, Gypo is unable to make plans. Now, finally, an idea comes to him. He goes to the police station and tells the officers where they can find Francis. He receives twenty pounds for his information. Shortly afterward, when police officers surround his father’s house, Francis shoots himself.
In a public house, Gypo meets Katie Fox, a prostitute who takes care of him occasionally when he is destitute. He buys her a few glasses of gin and tells her he has no need of her bed that night. She is suspicious because he has money and accuses him of robbing a church. During the quarrel, she accidentally lets drop the word “informer.” Gypo is startled. He is glad to leave her and go out in the night.
To keep up appearances, Gypo goes to the McPhillip house. He quarrels with Francis’s father, who blames him for the wild life his son led, but Francis’s mother and his sister, Mary, praise Gypo for his visit of sympathy. As he leaves, he gives Mrs. McPhillip four silver coins.
Bartly, an organization member sent out to bring Gypo in, follows him. When he makes a taunting reference to the coins Gypo gave Francis’s mother, Gypo chokes Bartly, who is saved only by the arrival of a friend who is armed. By dint of threats and persuasion, Gypo is led to the organization headquarters, where he meets Dan Gallagher, the revolutionists’ feared and respected leader.
Because of his stupidity and his great strength, Gypo has no fear of men or guns, but Dan is intelligent and soon overcomes Gypo’s hostility. If Gypo can give them a lead on the person who informed the police of Francis’s return, he will be taken back into the organization. Dan brings out a bottle and gives Gypo several drinks. Under the influence of the liquor, Gypo concocts a story that Rat Mulligan had a grudge against Francis for betraying his sister and that he saw Rat following Francis away from the lodging house. Dan is skeptical but sends for Rat and orders Gypo to appear for the hearing that night at one-thirty.
Followed by Bartly, his shadow, Gypo goes out confidently. In a street fight, he knocks out a policeman from sheer exuberance. Trailed by an admiring rabble, he goes to a lunch stand and buys food for all of his admirers. In the confusion, he slips away from Bartly.
Gypo is elated. He has money, he is safe, and he will be back in the organization. He goes to a superior brothel and spends money recklessly. A well-dressed woman with a scar on her face stays aloof. She refuses Gypo’s advances, saying she is the wife of an army officer and wants to get back to London. Gypo gives her what she needs for the fare and accepts the companionship of another girl, Maggie. Bartly finds him with her and reminds him of the inquiry. Gypo gives Maggie a pound to take to Katie and follows Bartly willingly.
Dan goes to the McPhillip house to take the family’s statements. He briefly makes love to Mary and induces her to accompany him to the inquiry, a kangaroo court held in the wine cellar of a ruined house. Dan acts as prosecutor, and three of his men are judges.
When Rat Mulligan is questioned, it becomes clear that he could not possibly have been the informer. When Gypo is brought in, Dan makes a convincing case that Gypo knew where Francis was going, left the lodging house at the right time, and was squandering money all night. At last, Gypo breaks down and confesses. Dan orders him imprisoned in a cellar room with armed guards at the door.
Much earlier, Francis had discussed with Gypo how to get out of the cell. In the ceiling is a trapdoor covered with dirt. Exerting his great strength, Gypo seizes the iron ring with his hands and with his legs forces up both the trapdoor and the earth covering it. The alerted guards shoot at him as he scrambles out, but he escapes. Dan is terrified that Gypo will go to the police and that the organization will be broken up. Mary is astonished to see how weak Dan is. When he pulls himself together, however, he sends agents to cover the roads leading out of the area, and Gypo is trapped.
Every time Gypo tries to leave the slum district, he finds waiting guards. His only refuge is Katie’s room. She lets him stay, and he thankfully falls into brutish sleep. Somehow, Katie begins to think of her own lost and vicious life, and she identifies her misery with Gypo’s. With a notion that she will be canonized, she creeps off to inform the organization of Gypo’s hiding place.
As four armed men close in on him, Gypo awakens just in time to fight them off. He cripples two of them in a struggle on the stairs, but he is wounded several times as he runs to escape execution.
Gypo becomes weaker as he flees. Dan sees him but shrugs as he turns away. He knows the informer is done for. In growing confusion, Gypo goes into a church where early mass is being celebrated. With dimming vision, he makes out the figure of Mrs. McPhillip. He falls in front of her seat and confesses his treachery. When she forgives him, Gypo stands up and in a loud voice calls to Francis about the forgiveness from his mother. With a gurgle, he falls forward and shivers as blood gushes from his mouth.