Stephen sees two middle-aged, unfashionable women coming down the steps to the sand, and the narrative adopts his perspective and thoughts: "Number one swung lourdily her midwife's bag, the other's gamp poked in the beach." Lourdily seems to mean simply "heavily" (from lourd in French, a language that Stephen drops into throughout Proteus). And "gamp" appears to mean "umbrella," because of Mrs. Gamp, the umbrella-carrying nurse in Dickens' Martin Chuzzlewit.
Dickens tells us that Mrs. Gamp's sign-board proclaimed her "Midwife," and that at her first appearance in the novel she has just been up all night helping another "professional lady" deliver a child. Starting from this literary reference point, Stephen conjures up a little dramatic vignette, as he began to do in Telemachus. In his thoughts, the umbrella and the midwife's bag (seen together in Kyd's illustration) get distributed between the two women, and the bag contains "A misbirth with a trailing navelcord."
It seems all but certain that Stephen does not know these two
women, does not know that one is a midwife or that one is the
widow of "the late Patk MacCabe, deeply lamented,"
does not know that she lives on "Bride Street"
in "the liberties." His
thoughts here show the hand of the artist-to-be, and the
figure of the two women out on a jaunt together will return at
the end of Aeolus, transformed into a short story.
By the time he tells his "parable of the plums" there, Stephen
has found a name for the second woman, "Anne Kearns,"
to go with "Florence MacCabe." He has changed
them into virgins ("vestals"), given them ages (50 and 53),
and changed their place of residence (from Bride Street to Fumbally's Lane, "Off
The two women return at the end of Wandering Rocks,
and now Joyce's narrative trumps Stephen's. The bag, it seems,
had nothing to do with midwifery and everything to do with
clam-digging. The tragic grotesquerie of Stephen's dead-baby
fantasy gives way to comic absurdity, as eleven little
mollusks roll over to gape at the Lord Mayor: "two sanded
women halted themselves, an umbrella and a bag in which
eleven cockles rolled to view with wonder the lord mayor and
lady mayoress without his golden chain."