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Part II: The Sign of the “Silver Shoe”




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I: The Sign of the “Silver Shoe”

THE suburban trains slid into the darkness of the tunnel at Cleveland Street, and, as they emerged into daylight on the other side, paused for a moment like intelligent animals before the spider's web of shining rails that curved into the terminus, as if to choose the pair that would carry them in safety to the platform. It was in this pause that the passengers on the left looked out with an upward jerk of the head, and saw that the sun had found a new plaything in Regent Street.

It was the model of a shoe, fifteen feet long, the hugest thing within sight, covered with silver leaf that glittered like metal in the morning sun. A gang of men had hoisted it into position last night by the flare of naphtha lamps, and now it trod securely on air above the new bootshop whose advertisement sprawled across half a page of the morning paper.

In Regent Street a week of painting and hammering had prepared them for surprises; two shops had been


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knocked into one, with two plate-glass windows framed in brass, and now the shop with its triumphant sign caught the eye like a check suit or a red umbrella. Every inch of the walls was covered with lettering in silver leaf, and across the front in huge characters ran the sign:

JONAH'S SILVER SHOE EMPORIUM

Meanwhile, the shop was closed, the windows obscured by blinds; but the children, attracted by the noise of hammering, flattened their noses against the plate glass, trying to spy out the busy privacy within. Evening fell, and the hammering ceased. Then, precisely on the stroke of seven, the electric lights flashed out, the curtains were withdrawn, and the shop stood smiling like a coquette at her first ball.

Everything was new. The fittings glistened with varnish, mirrors and brass rods reflected the light at every angle, and the building was packed from roof to floor with boots. The shelves were loaded with white cardboard boxes containing the better sort of boot. But there was not room enough on the shelves, and boots and shoes hung from the ceiling like bunches of fruit; they clung to brass rods like swarming bees. The strong, peculiar odour of leather clogged the air. The shopmen stood about, whispering to one another or changing the position of a pair of boots as they waited for the customers.

A crowd had gathered round the window on the left, which was fitted out like a workshop. On one


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side a clicker was cutting uppers from the skin; beside him a girl sat at a machine stitching the uppers together at racing speed. On the other side a man stood at a bench lasting the uppers to the insoles, and then pegging for dear life; near him sat a finisher, who shaved and blackened the rough edges, handing the finished article to a boy, who gave it a coat of gloss and placed it in the front of the window for inspection. A placard invited the public to watch the process of making Jonah's Famous Silver Shoes. The people crowded about as if it were a play, delighted with the novelty, following the stages in the growth of a boot with the pleasure of a boy examining the inside of a watch.

At eight o'clock another surprise was ready. A brass band began to play popular airs on the balcony, hung about with Chinese lanterns, and a row of electric bulbs flashed out, marking the outline of the wonderful silver shoe, glittering and gigantic in the white light.

The crowd looked up, and made bets on the length of the shoe, and recalled the time, barely five years ago, when the same man — Jonah the hunchback — had astonished Botany Road with his flaring signs in red and white. True, his shop was still on the Road, for Regent Street is but the fag end of a long, dusty road where it saunters into town, snobbishly conscious of larger buildings and higher rents. Since then his progress had been marked by removals, and each step had carried him nearer to the great city. He had outgrown his shops as a boy outgrows his trousers.

It was reported that everything turned to gold


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that he touched. It was certain that he had captured the trade of the Road, and this move meant that he had fastened his teeth in the trade of the roaring city. And not so long ago people could remember when he was a common larrikin, reputed leader of the Cardigan Street Push, and working for old Paasch, whose shop was now empty, his business absorbed by Jonah with the ease one swallows a lozenge. And they say he began life as a street-arab, selling papers and sleeping in the gutter. Well, some people's luck was marvellous!

The crowd became so dense that the police cleared a passage through it, and the carts and buses slackened to a walk as they passed the shop, where the electric lights glittered, the Chinese lanterns swung gaily in the breeze, and the band struck noisily into the airs from a comic opera.

Meanwhile the shop was crowded with customers, impatient to be served, each carrying a coupon cut from the morning paper, which entitled the holder to a pair of Jonah's Famous Silver Shoes at cost price. And near the door, in an interval of business, stood the proprietor, a hunchback, his grey eyes glittering with excitement at seeing his dream realized, the huge shop, spick and span as paint could make it, the customers jostling one another as they passed in and out, and the coin clinking merrily in the till.

Yes, they were quite right. Everything that he touched turned to gold. Outsiders confused his fortune with the luck of the man who draws the first prize in a sweep, enriched without effort by a chance turn of Fortune's wrist. They were blind to the


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unresting labour, the ruthless devices that left his rivals gaping, and the fixed idea that shaped everything to its needs. In five years he had fought his way down the Road, his line of march dotted with disabled rivals.

Old Paasch, the German, had been his first victim. Bewildered and protesting, he had succumbed to Jonah's novel methods of attack as a savage goes down under the fire of machine-guns. His shop was closed years ago, and he lived in a stuffy room, smelling vilely of tobacco-smoke, where he taught the violin to hazardous pupils for little more than a crust. He always spoke of Jonah with a vague terror in his blue eyes, convinced that he had once employed Satan as an errand-boy.

People were surprised to find that Jonah meant to live in the rooms over the new shop, when he could well afford to take a private house in the suburbs. It was said he treated his wife like dirt; that they lived like cat and dog; that he grudged her bare living and clothing. Jonah set his lips grimly on a hint of these rumours.

Three years ago he had planted Ada in a house of her own, and had gone home daily to rooms choked with dirt, for with years of ease she had grown more slovenly. Servants were a failure, for she made a friend of them, and their families lived in luxury at her expense. And when Ada was left alone, the meals were never ready, the house was like a pigsty, and she sat complacently amidst the dirt, reading penny novelettes in a gaudy dressing-jacket, or entertaining her old pals from the factory.

These would sit through an afternoon with envy


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in their hearts, and cries of wonder on their lips at the sight of some useless and costly article, which Ada, with the instinct of the parvenu, had bought to dazzle their eyes. For she remained on the level where she was born, and the gaping admiration of her poorer friends was the only profit she drew from Jonah's success. If Jonah arrived without warning, they tumbled over one another to get out unseen by the back door, but never forgot to carry away some memento of their visit — a tin of salmon, a canister of tea, a piece of bacon, a bottle whose label puzzled them — for Ada bestowed gifts like Royalty, with the invariable formula “Oh! take it; there's plenty more where that comes from.”

But the worst was her neglect of Ray, now seven years old, and the apple of Jonah's eye. She certainly spent part of the morning in dressing him up in his clothes, which were always new, for they were discarded by Jonah when the creases wore off; but when this duty, which she was afraid to neglect, was ended, she sent him out into the street to play in the gutter. His meals were the result of hazard, starving one day, and over-eating the next. And then, one day, some stains which Ada had been unable to sponge out elicited a stammering tale of a cart-wheel that had stopped three inches from the prostrate child.

This had finished Jonah, and with an oath he had told Ada to pack up, and move into the rooms over the shop, when they could be got ready. Ada made a scene, grumbled and sulked, but Jonah would take no more risks. His son and his shop, he had fathered both, and they should be brought together under


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his watchful eye, and Ada's parasites could sponge elsewhere.

It had happened in time for him to have the living-rooms fitted up over the shop, for the part which was required as a store-room left ample space for a family of three. Ada gave in with a sullen anger, refusing to notice the splendours of the new establishment. But she had a real terror, besides her objection to being for ever under Jonah's sharp eyes.

Born and bred in a cottage, she had a natural horror of staircases, looking on them as dangerous contrivances on which people daily risked their lives. She climbed them slowly, feeling for safety with her feet, and descended with her heart in her mouth. The sight of others tripping lightly up and down impressed her like a dangerous performance on the tight-rope in a circus. And the new rooms could only be reached by two staircases, one at the far end of the shop, winding like a corkscrew to the upper floor, and another, sickening to the eye, dropping from the rear balcony in the open air to the kitchen and the yard.

Mrs. Yabsley continued to live in the old cottage in Cardigan Street. Jonah made her an allowance, but she still worked at the laundry, not for a living, as she carefully explained to every new customer, but for the sake of exercise. And she had obstinately refused to be pensioned off.

“I've seen too many of them pensioners, creepin' an' coughin' along the street, because they thought they was too old fer work, an' one fine mornin' they fergit ter come down ter breakfust, an' the neighbours are invited to the funeral. An' but for that


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they might 'ave lived fer years, drawin' their money an' standin' in the way of younger men. No pensions fer me, thank yer!”

When Jonah had pointed out that she could not live alone in the cottage, she had listened with a mysterious smile. With Jonah's allowance and her earnings, she was the rich woman, the lady chatelaine of the street, and she chose a companion from the swarm of houseless women that found a precarious footing in the houses of their relations — women with raucous voices, whose husbands had grown tired of life and fled; ladies who were vaguely supposed to be widows; comely young women cast on a cold world with a pitiful tale and a handbag. And she fed them till they were plump and vicious again, when they invariably disappeared, taking everything of value they could lay hands on. When Jonah, exasperated by these petty thefts, begged her to come and live with them, she shook her head, with a humorous twinkle in her eyes.

“No, yer'd 'ave ter pull me up by the roots like that old tree if yer took me out of this street. I remember w'en 'arf this street was open paddicks, an' now yer can't stick a pin between the 'ouses. I was a young gell then, an' a lot better lookin' than yer'd think. Ada's father thought a lot o' me, I tell yer. That was afore 'e took ter drink. I was 'is first love, as the sayin' is, but beer was 'is second. 'E was a good 'usbind ter me wot time 'e could spare from the drink, an' I buried 'im out of this very 'ouse, w'en Ada could just walk. I often think life's a bloomin' fraud, Joe, w'ichever way yer look at it. W'en ye're young, it promises yer everythin' yer


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want, if yer only wait. An' w'en ye're done waitin', yer've lost yer teeth an' yer appetite, or forgot wot yer were waitin' for. Yes, Joe, the street an' me's old pals. We've seen one another in sickness an' sorrer an' joy an' jollification, an' it 'ud be a poor job ter part us now. Funny, ain't it? This street is more like a 'uman bein' ter me than plenty I know. Yer see, I can't read the paper, an' see 'oo's bin married and murdered through the week, bein' no scholar, but I can read Cardigan Street like a book. An' I've found that wot 'appens in this street 'appens everywhere else, if yer change the names an' addresses.”

About a week after the triumphant opening of the Silver Shoe, Jonah was running his eye down some price-lists, when he was disturbed by a loud noise. He looked round, and was surprised to see Miss Giltinan, head of the ladies' department, her lips tight with anger, replacing a heap of cardboard boxes with jerks of suppressed fury.

She was his best saleswoman, gathered in from the pavement a week after she had been ejected from Packard's factory for cheeking the boss. She had spent a few weeks dusting shoes and tying up parcels, and then, brushing the old hands aside, had taken her place as a born saleswoman. Sharp as a needle, the customers were like clay in her hands. She recognized two classes of buyers — those who didn't know what they wanted, and always, under her guidance, spent more than they intended, and those who knew quite well what they wanted, the best quality at an impossible price. Both went away satisfied, for she took them into her confidence, and,


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with covert glances for fear she should be overheard, gave them her private opinion of the articles in a whisper. And they went away satisfied that they had saved money, and made a friend who would always look after their interests. But this morning she was blazing.

“Save the pieces, Mary,” said Jonah, “wot's the matter?”

“A woman in there's got me beat,” replied the girl savagely — “says she must 'ave Kling & Wessel's, an' we 'aven't got a pair in the place. Not likely either, when the firm's gone bung; but I wasn't goin' to tell 'er that. Better come an' try 'er yourself, or she'll get away with 'er money.”

As Jonah entered, the troublesome customer looked up with an air of great composure. She was a young woman of five-and-twenty, tall, dark, and slight, with features more uncommon than beautiful. Her face seemed quite familiar to Jonah.

“Good mornin', Miss. Can I 'elp you in any way?” he said, trying to remember where he had seen her before.

“So sorry to trouble you, but my feet are rather a nuisance,” she said, in a voice that broke like the sound of harps and flutes on Jonah's ear.

Jonah noted mechanically that her eyes were brown, peculiar, and luminous as if they glowed from within. They were marked by dark eyebrows that formed two curves of remarkable beauty. She showed her teeth in a smile; they were small and white and even, so perfect that they passed for false with strangers. She explained that she had an abnormally high instep, and could only be fitted by


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one brand of shoe. She showed her foot, cased in a black stocking, and the sight of it carried Jonah back to Cardigan Street and the push, for the high instep was a distinguished mark of beauty among the larrikins, adored by them with a Chinese reverence.

“I can only wear Kling & Wessel's, and your assistant tells me you are out of them at present,” she continued, “so I am afraid I must give it up as a bad job.” She picked up her shoe, and Jonah was seized with an imperious desire to keep her in the shop at any cost.

“I'm afraid yer've worn yer last pair of that make,” said Jonah. “The Americans 'ave driven them off the market, and the agency's closed.”

“How annoying! I must wear shoes. Whatever shall I do?” she replied, staring at the shelves as if lost in thought.

Jonah marked with an extraordinary pleasure every detail of her face and dress. The stuff was a cheap material, but it was cut and worn with a daintiness that marked her off from the shopgirls and others that Jonah was most familiar with. And as he looked, a soft glow swept through him like the first stage of intoxication. Sometimes at the barber's a similar hypnotic feeling had come over him, some electric current stirred by the brushing of his hair, when common sounds and movements struck on his nerves like music. Again his nerves vibrated tunefully, and he became aware that she was speaking.

“So sorry to have troubled you,” she said, and prepared to go.

He felt he must keep her at any cost. “A foot


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like yours needs a special last shaped to the foot. I don't make to order now, as a rule, but I'll try wot I can do fer yer, if yer care to leave an order,” he said. He spoke like one in a dream.

She looked at him with a peculiar, intense gaze. “I should prefer that, but I'm afraid they would be too expensive,” she said.

“No, I can do them at the same price as Kling & Wessel's,” said Jonah.

Miss Giltinan started and looked sharply from Jonah to his customer. She knew that was impossible. And she looked with a frown at this woman who could make Jonah forget his business instincts for a minute. For she worshipped him in secret, grateful to him for lifting her out of the gutter, and regarded him as the arbiter of her destiny.

He went to the desk and found the sliding rule and tape. As he passed the tape round the stranger's foot, he found that his hands were trembling. And as he knelt before her on one knee, the young woman studied, with a slight repugnance, the large head, wedged beneath the shoulders as if a giant's hand had pressed it down, and the hump projecting behind, monstrous and inhuman. Suddenly Jonah looked up and met her eyes. She coloured faintly.

“Wot sort of fit do yer like?” he asked. His voice, usually sharp and nasal, was rather hoarse.

All her life she remembered that moment. The huge shop, glittering with varnish, mirrors, and brass rods, the penetrating odour of leather, the saleswoman silently copying the figures into the book, and the misshapen hunchback kneeling before her and looking


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up into her face with his restless grey eyes, grown suddenly steady, that asked one question and sought another. She frowned slightly, conscious of some strange and disagreeable sensation.

“I prefer them as tight as possible without hurting me,” she replied nervously; “but I'm afraid I'm giving you too much trouble.”

“Not a bit,” replied Jonah, clearing his throat.

As he finished measuring, a small boy, dressed in a Fauntleroy velvet suit, with an enormous collar and a flap cap, ran noisily into the shop, dragging a toy train at his heels.

“Get upstairs at once, Ray,” said Jonah, without looking round.

The child, puffing and snorting like an engine, took no notice of the command.

“Did yez 'ear me speak?” cried Jonah, angrily.

The child laughed, and stopped with his train in front of the customer, staring at her with unabashed eyes.

“What a pretty boy!” said the young woman. “Won't you tell me your name?”

“My name's Ray Jones, and I'll make old bones,” he cried, with the glibness of a parrot.

The young woman laughed, and Jonah's face changed instantly. It wore the adoring gaze of the fond parent, who thinks his child is a marvel and a prodigy.

“Tell the lady 'ow old yer are,” he said.

“I'm seven and a bit old-fashioned,” cried the child, looking into the customer's face for the amused look that always followed the words. The young woman smiled pleasantly as she laced her shoe.




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“'E's as sharp as a needle,” said Jonah, with a proud look, “but I 'aven't put 'im to school yet, 'cause 'e'll get enough schooling later on. But I'll 'ave ter do somethin' with 'im soon; 'e's up ter 'is neck in mischief. I wish 'e was old enough ter learn the piano. 'E's got a wonderful ear fer music.”

“But he is old enough,” said the young woman with a sudden interest. “I have two pupils the same age as he.”

“Ah?” said Jonah, inquiringly.

“I am a teacher of music,” continued the young woman, “and in my opinion, they can't start too early, if they have any gift.”

“An' 'ow would yer judge that?” said Jonah, delighted at the turn of the conversation.

“I generally go by the width of the forehead at the temples. Phrenologists always look for that, and I have never found it fail. Come here,” she said to the child, in a sharp, businesslike tone. She passed her hand over his forehead, and pointed out to Jonah a fullness over the corner of the eye. “That is the bump of music. You have it yourself,” she said, suddenly looking at Jonah's face. “I'm sure you're fond of music. Do you sing or play?”

“I can do a bit with the mouth-organ,” said Jonah, off his guard. He turned red with shame at this vulgar admission but the young woman only smiled.

“Well, about the boy,” said Jonah, anxious to change the subject, “I'd like yer to take 'im in 'and, if yer could make anythin' of 'im.”

“I should be very pleased,” said the young woman.




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“Very well, we'll talk it over on Thursday, when yer come fer yer shoes,” said Jonah, feeling that he was making an appointment with this fascinating stranger.

As she left the shop she handed Jonah a card, on which was printed:

MISS CLARA GRIMES,

TEACHER OF MUSIC.

Terms: £1.1s. per quarter.

“Well, I'm damned!” said Jonah. “Old Grimes's daughter, of course.” And as he watched her crossing the street with a quick, alert step, an intense yearning and loneliness came over him. Something within him contracted till it hurt. And suddenly there flashed across his mind some half-forgotten words of Mrs. Yabsley's:

“Don't think of marryin' till yer feel there's somethin' wrong wi' yer inside, for that's w'ere it ketches yer.”

He sighed heavily, and went into the shop, preoccupied and silent for that day.




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II: A Family in Exile

DAD GRIMES had just finished the story of his nose and the cabman, and the group in the bar of the Angel exploded like a shell. Dicky Freeman's mouth seemed to slip both ways at once till it reached his ears. The barman put down the glass he was wiping and twisted the cloth in his fingers till the tears stood in his eyes. The noise was deafening.

“An' 'e sez, ‘Cum on, you an' yer nose, an' I'll fight the pair o' yez,’” spluttered Dicky, with hysterical gasps, and went off again. His chuckles ended in a dead silence. There was no sound but the rapid breathing of the men. The barman flattened a mosquito on his cheek, the smack sounded like a kiss. Dicky Freeman emptied his glass, and then stared through the bottom as if he wondered where the liquor had gone.

“I assure you for the moment I was staggered,” said Dad, rounding off his story. “I am aware that my nose has added to the gaiety of nations, but it was the first time that it had been reckoned as a creature distinct from myself with an individuality of its own.”




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Dad Grimes was a man of fifty, wearing a frock coat that showed a faint green where the light fell on the shoulders, and a tall silk hat that had grown old with the wearer. But for his nose he might have been an undertaker. It was an impossible nose, the shape and size of a potato, and the colour of pickled cabbage — the nose for a clown in the Carnival of Venice. Its marvellous shape was none of Dad's choosing, but the colour was his own, laid on by years of patient drinking as a man colours a favourite pipe. Years ago, when he was a bank manager, his heart had bled at the sight of this ungainly protuberance; but since his downfall, he had led the chorus of laughter that his nose excited, with a degraded pride in his physical defect.

It was Dicky Freeman's turn to shout, and he began another story as Dad sucked the dregs of beer off his moustache. Dad recognized the opening sentence. It was one of the interminable stories out of the Decameron of the bar-room, realistic and obscene, that circulate among drinkers. Dad knew it by heart. He looked at his glass, and remembered that it was his fourth drink. Instantly he thought of the Duchess. With his usual formula “'Scuse me; I'm a married man, y'know,” he hurried out of the bar in search of his little present.

It was nine o'clock, and the Duchess would be waiting for him with his tea since six. And always when he stopped at the “Angel” on his way home, he tried to soften her icy looks with a little present. Sometimes it was a bunch of grapes that he crushed to a pulp by rolling on them; sometimes a dozen apples that he spilt out of the bag, and recovered from the


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gutter with lurching steps. But tonight he happened to stop in front of the fish shop, and a lobster caught his eye. The beer had quickened the poetry in his soul, and the sight of this fortified inhabitant of the deep pleased him like a gorgeous sunset. He shuffled back to the Angel with the lobster under his arm, wrapped in a piece of paper.

One more drink and he would go home. He put the lobster carefully at his elbow and called for drinks. But Dicky was busy with a new trick with a box of matches, and Dad, who was a recognized expert in the idle devices of bar-room loafers — picking up glasses and bottles with a finger and thumb, opening a footrule with successive jerks from the wrist, drinking beer out of a spoon — forgot the lapse of time with the new toy.

Punctually on the stroke of eleven the swinging doors of the Angel were closed and the huge street lamps were extinguished. Dad's eye was glassy, but he remembered the lobster.

“Whersh my lil' present?” he wailed. “Mush 'ave lil' present for the Duchess, y'know. 'Ow could I g'ome, d'ye think?”

He made so much noise that the landlord came to see what was the matter, and then the barman pointed to where he had left the lobster on the counter. He tucked it under his arm and lurched into the street. Now, Dad could run when he couldn't walk. He swayed a little, then suddenly broke into a run whose speed kept him from falling and preserved his balance like a spinning top.

The Duchess, seen through a haze, seemed unusually stern tonight; but with beery pride he produced his


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little present, the mail-clad delicacy, the armoured crustacean. But Dicky Freeman, offended by Dad's sudden departure in the middle of the story, had taken a mean revenge with the aid of the barman, and, as Dad unfastened the wrapping, there appeared, not the shellfish in its vermilion armour, but something smooth and black — an empty beer-bottle! Dad stared and blinked. A look at the Duchess revealed a face like the Ten Commandments. The situation was too abject for words; he grinned vacantly and licked his lips.

The Grimes family lived in the third house in the terrace, counting from the lamp-post at the corner of Buckland Street, where, running parallel to Cardigan Street, it tumbles over the hill and is lost to sight on its way to Botany Road. It was a long, ugly row of two-storey houses, the model lodging-houses of the crowded suburbs, so much alike that Dad had forced his way, in a state of intoxication, into every house in the terrace at one time or another, under the impression that he lived there.

Ten years ago the Grimes family had come to live in Waterloo, when the Bank of New Guinea had finally dispensed with Dad's services as manager at Billabong. His wife had picked on this obscure suburb of working men to hide her shame, and Dad who could make himself at home on an ant-hill, had cheerfully acquiesced. He had started in business as a house-agent, and the family of three lived from hand to mouth on the profits that escaped the publican. Not that Dad was idle. He was for ever busy; but it was the busyness of a fly. He would call for the rent, and spend half the morning fixing


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a tap for Mrs. Brown, instead of calling in the plumber; he would make a special journey to the other end of Sydney for Mrs. Smith, to prove that he had a nose for bargains.

Mrs. Grimes forgot with the greatest ease that her neighbours were made of the same clay as herself, but she never forgot that she had married a bank manager, and she never forgave Dad for lowering her pride to the dust. True, she was only the governess at Nullah Nullah station when Dad married her, but her cold aristocratic features had given her the pick of the neighbouring stations, and Dad was reckoned a lucky man when he carried her off. It was her fine, aquiline features and a royal condescension in manner that had won her the title of “Duchess” in this suburb of workmen. She tried to be affable, and her visitors smarted under a sense of patronage. The language of Buckland Street, coloured with oaths, the crude fashions of the slop-shop, and the drunken brawls, jarred on her nerves like the sharpening of a saw. So she lived, secluded as a nun, mocked and derided by her inferiors.

She was born with the love of the finer things that makes poverty tragic. She kept a box full of the tokens of the past — a scarf of Maltese lace, yellow with age, that her grandmother had sent from England; a long chain of fine gold, too frail to be worn; a brooch set with diamonds in a bygone fashion; a ring with her father's seal carved in onyx.

Her daughter Clara was the image of herself in face and manner, and her grudge against her husband hardened every time she thought of her only child's future. Clara was fifteen when they descended to


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Buckland Street, a pampered child, nursed in luxury. The Duchess belonged to the Church of England, and it had been one of the sights of Billabong to see her move down the aisle on Sunday like a frigate of Nelson's time in full sail; but she had overcome her scruples, and sent Clara to the convent school for finishing lessons in music, dancing, and painting.

We each live and act our parts on a stage built to our proportions, and set in a corner of the larger theatre of the world, and the revolution that displaces princes was not more surprising to them than the catastrophe that dropped the Grimes family in Buckland Street was to Clara and her mother.

Clara had been taught to look on her equals with scorn, and she stared at her inferiors with a mute contempt that roused the devil in their hearts. She had lived in the street ten years, and was a stranger in it. Buckland Street was never empty, but she learned to pick her time for going in and out when the neighbours were at their meals or asleep. She attended a church at an incredible distance from Waterloo, for fear people should learn her unfashionable address. Her few friends lived in other suburbs whose streets she knew by heart, so that they took her for a neighbour.

When she was twenty-two she had become engaged to a clerk in a Government office, who sang in the same choir. A year passed, and the match was suddenly broken off. This was her only serious love-affair, for, though she was handsome in a singular way, her flirtations never came to anything. She belonged to the type of woman who can take


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her pick of the men, and remains unmarried while her plainer friends are rearing families.

The natural destiny of the Waterloo girls was the factory, or the workshops of anæmic dressmakers, stitching slops at racing speed for the warehouses. A few of the better sort, marked out by their face and figure, found their way to the tea-rooms and restaurants. But the Duchess had encouraged her daughter's belief that she was too fine a lady to soil her hands with work, and she strummed idly on the dilapidated piano while her mother roughened her fine hands with washing and scrubbing. This was in the early days, when Dad, threatened with starvation, had passed the hotels at a run to avoid temptation, for which he made amends by drinking himself blind for a week at a time. Then, after years of genteel poverty, the Duchess had consented to Clara giving lessons on the piano — that last refuge of the shabby-genteel. But pupils were scarce in Waterloo, and Clara's manner chilled the enthusiasm of parents who only paid for lessons on the understanding that their child was to become the wonder of the world for a guinea a quarter.

This morning Clara was busy practising scales, while her mother dusted and swept with feverish haste, for Mr Jones, the owner of the great boot-shop, was bringing his son in the afternoon to arrange for lessons on the piano. The Duchess knew the singular history of Jonah, the boot king, and awaited his arrival with intense curiosity. She had married a failure, and adored success. She decided to treat Jonah as an equal, forgiving his lowly origin with


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a confused idea that it was the proper thing for millionaires to spring from the gutter, the better to show their contempt for the ordinary advantages of education and family. She had decided to wear her black silk, faded and darned, but by drawing the curtains she hoped it would pass. From some receptacle unknown to Dad she had fished out a few relics of her former grandeur — an old-fashioned card-tray of solid silver, and the quaint silver tea-set with the tiny silver spoons that her grandmother had sent as a wedding present from England.

Clara had just finished a variation with three tremendous fortissimo chords when she heard the wheels of a cab. This was an event in itself, for cabs in Buckland Street generally meant doctors, hospitals, or sudden death. She ran to the window and saw the hunchback and the boy stepping out. Clara opened the door with an air of surprise, and led them to the parlour where the Duchess was waiting. Years and misfortune had added to her dignity, and Jonah felt his shop and success and money slip away from him, leaving him the street-arab sprung from the gutter before this aristocrat. Ray took to her at once, and climbed into her lap, bringing her heart into her mouth as he rubbed his feet on the famous black silk.

“I have never had the pleasure of meeting you, but I have heard of your romantic career,” she said.

“Well, I've got on, there's no denying that,” said Jonah. “Some people think it's luck, but I tell 'em it's 'ard graft.”

“Exactly,” said the Duchess, wondering what he meant by graft.




  ― 160 ―
Jonah looked round the stuffy room. It had an indescribable air of antiquity. Every piece of furniture was of a pattern unknown to him, and there was a musty flavour in the air, for the Duchess, valuing privacy more than fresh air, never opened the windows. On the wall opposite was a large picture in oils, an English scene, with the old rustic bridge and the mill in the distance, painted at Billabong by Clara at an early age. The Duchess caught Jonah's eye.

“That was painted by my daughter ten years ago. Her teachers considered she had a wonderful talent, but misfortune came, and she was unable to follow it up,” she said.

Jonah's amazement increased. It was a mere daub, but to his untrained eye it was like the pictures in the Art Gallery, where he had spent a couple of dull afternoons. Over the piano a framed certificate announced that Clara Grimes had passed the junior grade of Trinity College in 1890. And Jonah, who had an eye for business like a Jew, who moved in an atmosphere of profit and loss, suddenly felt ill at ease. His shop, his money, and his success must seem small things to these women who lived in the world of art. His thoughts were brought back to earth by a sudden crash. Ray was sitting on a chair, impatient for the music to begin, and, as he never sat on a chair in the ordinary fashion, he had paralysed the Duchess with a series of gymnastic feats, twining his legs round the chair, sitting on his feet, kneeling on the seat with his feet on the back of the chair, until at last an unlucky move had tilted the chair backwards into a pot-stand. The jar fell with


  ― 161 ―
a crash, and Ray laughed. The Duchess uttered a cry of terror.

“Yer young devil, keep still,” cried Jonah, angrily. “Yer can pay fer that out of yer pocket-money,” he added.

“It was of no value,” said the Duchess, with frigid dignity.

“Perhaps Miss Grimes will play something,” said Jonah. “Ray's talked of nothing else since daylight this morning.”

Clara sat down at the piano and ran her fingers over the keys. She had selected her masterpiece, “The Wind Among the Pines”, a tone-picture from a shilling album. Her fingers ran over the keys with amazing rapidity as she beat out the melody with the left hand on the groaning bass, while with the right she executed a series of scales to the top of the keyboard and back. Jonah listened spellbound to the clap-trap arrangement. He had the native ear for music, and he recognized that he was in the presence of a born musician. Ray crept near, and listened with open mouth to this display of musical fireworks. When she had finished, Clara turned to Jonah with a languid smile, the look of the artist conscious of divine gifts.

“My daughter was considered the best player at the convent where she was educated,” said the Duchess — “a great talent wasted in this dreadful place.”

“I niver 'eard anythin' like that in my natural,” said Jonah with enthusiasm. “If yer can teach Ray ter play like that, I'm satisfied.”

“You may depend upon her doing her best with


  ― 162 ―
your son, but it is not everyone who has Clara's talent,” said the Duchess.

“Play some more,” said Ray.

This time she selected a grand march, striking the dilapidated piano a series of stunning blows with both hands, filling the air with the noise of battle.

“That must be terrible 'ard,” said Jonah.

“It takes it out of one,” replied Clara, with the simplicity of an artist.

Then she gave Ray his first lesson, showing him how to sit and place his hands, anxious to impress the parent that she was a good teacher. She declared that Ray was very apt, and would learn rapidly. An hour later, Jonah paid for Ray's first quarter. Clara's terms were a guinea, but Jonah insisted on two guineas on the understanding that Ray would receive special attention.

But in spite of her promises, Ray's progress was slow. As Jonah had no piano, the boy came half an hour early to his lesson to practise, but the twenty minutes' journey from the Silver Shoe occupied the best part of an hour, for Ray, who took to the streets as a duck takes to water, could spend a morning idling before shop windows, following fiddlers on their rounds, watching navvies dig a drain, with a frank, sensuous delight in the sights and sounds of the streets, an inheritance from Jonah's years of vagabondage. Then the street-arabs fell on him, annoyed by his new clothes and immense white collar, and at the end of the third week he reached home after dark with a cut on his forehead and spattered with mud.




  ― 163 ―
The next day Jonah called on Clara to make some other arrangements. His tone was brusque, and Clara noticed with surprise that he was inclined to blame her for Ray's mishap. He seemed to forget everything when it was a question of his son. But all of the Duchess in Clara came to the surface in her annoyance, and she suggested that the lessons had better come to an end. Absorbed in his egotistic feelings, Jonah looked up in surprise, and his anger vanished. He saw that he had offended her, and apologized. Then he remembered what had brought him. His overpowering desire to see this woman had surprised him like the first symptoms of an illness. He had not seen her for three weeks, and in the increased flow of business at the Silver Shoe had half forgotten his amazing emotions as one forgets a powerful dream. Women, he repeated, were worse than drink for taking a man's mind off his work.

In his experience he had observed with some curiosity that drink and women were alike in throwing men off their balance. Drink, fortunately, had no power over him. Beer only fuddled his brain, and he looked on its effect with the curious dislike women look on smoking, blind to its fascinations. As for women, Ada was the only one he had ever been on intimate terms with, and, judging by his sensations, people who talked about love were either fools or liars. True, he had heard Chook talking like a fool about Pinkey, swearing that he couldn't live without her, but thought naturally that he lied. And they had quarrelled so fiercely over the colour of her hair, that for years each looked the other way when they met in the street. But as he looked at


  ― 164 ―
Clara again, something vibrated within him, and he was conscious of nothing but a desire to look at her and hear her speak.

“My idea was to buy a piano, an' then yer could give Ray 'is lessons at 'ome,” he said.

“That is the only way out of the difficulty,” said Clara.

Jonah thought awhile, and made up his mind with a snap.

“Could yer come with me now, an' pick me a piano? I can tell a boot by the smell of the leather, but pianos are out of my line.”

Clara's manner changed instantly as she thought of the commission she would get from Kramer's, where she had a running account for music.

“I shall be only too pleased,” she said.

As they left the house she remembered, with a slight repugnance, Jonah's deformity. She hoped people wouldn't notice them as they went down the street. But to her surprise and relief, Jonah hailed a passing cab.

“Time's money to me,” he said, with an apologetic look.

Cabs were a luxury in Buckland Street, and Clara was delighted. She felt suddenly on the level of the rich people who could afford to ride where others trudged afoot. She leaned forward, hoping that the people would notice her.

At Kramer's she took charge of Jonah as a guide takes charge of tourists in a foreign land, anxious to show him that she was at home among this display of expensive luxuries. The floor was packed with pianos, glittering with varnish which reflected the


  ― 165 ―
strong light of the street. From another room came a monotonous sound repeated indefinitely, a tuner at work on a piano.

The salesman stepped up, glancing at the hunchback with the quick look of surprise which Clara had noticed in others. They stopped in front of an open piano, and Clara, taking off her gloves, ran her fingers over the keys. The rich, singing notes surprised Jonah, they were quite unlike those he had heard on Clara's piano. Clara played as much as she could remember of “The Wind Among the Pines”, and Jonah decided to buy that one.

“'Ow much is that?” he inquired.

“A hundred guineas,” replied the shopman, indifferently.

“Garn! Yer kiddin'?” cried Jonah, astounded.

The salesman looked in surprise from Jonah to Clara. She coloured slightly. Jonah saw that she was annoyed. The salesman led them to another instrument, and, with less deference in his tone, remarked that this was the firm's special cheap line at fifty guineas. But Jonah had noticed the change in Clara's manner, and decided against the cheaper instrument instantly. They thought he wasn't good for a hundred quid, did they? Well, he would show them. But, to his surprise, Clara opposed the idea. The Steinbech, she explained, was an instrument for artists. It would be a sacrilege for a beginner to touch it. Jonah persisted, but the shopman agreed with Clara that the celebrated Ropp at eighty guineas would meet his wants. A long discussion followed, and Jonah listened while Clara tried to beat the salesman down below catalogue price for cash.


  ― 166 ―
Here was a woman after his own heart, who could drive a bargain with the best of them. At the end of half an hour Jonah filled in a cheque for eighty guineas, and the salesman, reading the signature, bowed them deferentially out of the shop.

Clara walked out of the shop with the air of a millionaire. To be brought in contact even for a moment with this golden stream of sovereigns excited her like wine. All her life she had desired things whose price put them beyond her reach, and she felt suddenly friendly to this man who took what he wanted regardless of cost. She thought pleasantly of the ride home in the cab, but she was pulled up with a jerk when Jonah led the way to the tram. He wore an anxious look, as if he had spent more than he could afford, and yet the money was a mere flea-bite to him. But whenever he spent money, a panic terror seized him — a survival of the street-arab's instinct, who counted his money in pennies instead of pounds.




  ― 167 ―

III: Ada Makes a Friend

ADA moved uneasily, opened her eyes and stared at the patch of light on the opposite wall. As she lay half awake, she tried to remember the day of the week, and, deceived by the morning silence, decided that it was Sunday. She thought, with lazy pleasure, that a day of idleness lay before her, and felt under the pillow for the tin of lollies that she hid there every night. This movement awakened her completely, and stretching her limbs luxuriously between the warm sheets, she began to suck the lollies, at first slowly revolving the sticky globules on her tongue, and then scrunching them between her firm teeth with the tranquil pleasure of a quadruped.

This was her only pleasure and the only pleasant hour of the day. She looked at Jonah, who lay on his side with his nose buried in the pillow, without repugnance and without liking. That had gone long ago. And as she looked, she remembered that he was to be awakened early and that it was Friday the hardest day of the week, when she must make up her arrears of scrubbing and dusting. Her luxurious mood changed to one of dull irritation, and she looked sullenly


  ― 168 ―
at the enormous wardrobe and dressing-table with their speckled mirrors. These had delighted her at first, but in her heart she preferred the battered, makeshift furniture of Cardigan Street. A few licks with the duster and her work was done; but here the least speck of dust showed on the polished surface. Jonah, too, had got into a nasty habit of writing insulting words on the dusty surface with his finger.

Well, let him! There had been endless trouble since he bought the piano. As sure as Miss Grimes came to give Ray his lesson, he declared the place was a pigsty and tried to shame her by taking off his coat and dusting the room himself. Not that she blamed Miss Grimes. She was quite a lady in her way, and had won Ada's heart by telling her that she hated housework. She thought Ada must be a born housekeeper to do without a servant, and Ada didn't trouble to put her right. Anyhow, Jonah should keep a servant. He pretended that their servants in Wyndham Street had made game of her behind her back, and robbed her right and left. What did that matter? she thought — Jonah could afford it.

The real reason was that he wanted no one in the house to see how he treated his wife. She cared little herself whether she had a girl or not, for she had always been accustomed to make work easy by neglecting it. If Jonah wanted a floor that you could eat your dinner off, let him get a servant. He was as mean as dirt. A fat lot she got out of his money. Here she was, shut up in these rooms, little better than a prisoner, for her old pals never dared show their noses in this house, and she could never go


  ― 169 ―
out without all the shop-hands knowing it. She never bought a new dress, but Jonah stormed like a madman, declaring that she looked like a servant dressed up. Well, her clothes knocked Cardigan Street endways when she paid her mother a visit, and that was all she wanted.

There was her mother, too. She had never been a real mother to her; you could never tell what she was thinking about. Other people took their troubles to her, but she treated her own daughter like a stranger. And, of course, she sided with Jonah and talked till her jaw ached about her duty to her child and her husband. She would have married Tom Mullins if it hadn't been for the kid, and lived in Cardigan Street like her pals. Her thoughts travelled back to Packard's and the Road. She remembered with intense longing the group at the corner, the drunken rows, and the nightly gossip on the doorstep. That was life for her. She had been like a fish out of water ever since she left it. She thought with singular bitterness of Jonah's attempts to introduce her to the wives of the men he met in business, women who knew not Cardigan Street, and annoyed her by staring at her hands, and talking of their troubles with servants till they made her sick.

Her thoughts were suddenly interrupted by Jonah. He turned in his sleep and pushed the sheet from his face, but a loud scrunch from Ada's jaw woke him completely. He tugged at the pillow and his hand fell on the tin of sticky lollies.

“Bah!” he cried in disgust, and rubbed his fingers on the sheet. “Only kids eat that muck.”

“Kid yerself!” cried Ada furiously. “Anybody 'ud


  ― 170 ―
think I was eatin' di'monds. Yer'd grudge me the air I breathe, if yer thought it cost money.”

“Yah, git up an' light the fire!” replied Jonah.

“Yes, that's me all over. Anybody else 'ud keep a servant; but as long as I'm fool enough ter slave an' drudge, yer save the expense.”

“You slave an' drudge?” cried Jonah in scorn — “that was in yer dream. Are yer sure ye're awake?”

“Yes, I am awake, an' let me tell yer that it's the talk of the neighbourhood that yer've got thousands in the bank, an' too mean ter keep a servant.”

“That's a lie, an' yer know it!” cried Jonah. “Didn't yez 'ave a girl in Wyndham Street, an' didn't she pinch enough things to set up 'er sister's 'ouse w'en she got married?”

“Yous couldn't prove it,” said Ada, sullenly.

“No, I couldn't prove it without showing everybody wot sort of wife I'd got.”

“She's a jolly sight too good fer yous, an' well yer know it.”

“Yes, that's wot I complain of,” said Jonah. “I'd prefer a wife like other men 'ave that can mind their 'ouse, an' not make a 'oly show of themselves w'en they take 'em out.”

“A fat lot yer take me out!”

“Take yous out! Yah! Look at yer neck!”

Ada flushed a sullen red. So far the quarrel had been familiar and commonplace, like a conversation about the weather, but her neck, hidden under grubby lace, was Ada's weak point.

“Look at the hump on yer back before yer talk about my neck,” she shouted. It was the first time


  ― 171 ―
she had ever dared to taunt Jonah with his deformity, and the sound of her words frightened her. He would strike her for certain.

Jonah's face turned white. He raised himself on his elbow and clenched his fist, the hard, knotty fist of the shoemaker swinging at the end of the unnaturally long arms, another mark of his deformity. Jonah had never struck her — contrary to the habit of Cardigan Street — finding that he could hit harder with his tongue; but it was coming now, and she nerved herself for the blow. But Jonah's hand dropped helplessly.

“You low, dirty bitch,” he said. “If a man said that to me, I'd strangle him. I took yer out of the factory, I married yer, an' worked day an' night ter git on in the world, an' that's yer thanks. Pity I didn't leave yer in the gutter w'ere yer belonged. I wonder who yer take after? Not after yer mother. She is clean an' wholesome. Any other woman would take an interest in my business, an' be a help to a man; but you're like a millstone round my neck. I thought I'd done with Cardigan Street, an' the silly loafers I grew up with, but s'elp me Gawd, when I married you I married Cardigan Street. I could put up with yer want of brains — you don't want much brains ter git through this world — but it's yer nasty, sulky temper, an' yer bone idleness. I suppose yer git them from yer lovely father. The 'ardest work 'e ever did was to drink beer. It's a wonder yer don't take after 'im in that. I suppose I've got something to be thankful for.”

“Yes, I suppose yer'd like me ter drink meself ter death, so as yer could marry again. But yer needn't


  ― 172 ―
fear. I'll last yous out,” cried Ada, recovering her tongue now that she was no longer in fear of a blow.

“Ah well, yer can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, they say,” said Jonah. There was an intense weariness in his voice as he turned his back on Ada.

“No more than yer can make a man out of a monkey on a stick,” muttered Ada to herself as she got out of bed.

Ada got the breakfast and went about the house in sullen silence. Jonah was used to this. For days together after a quarrel she would sulk without speaking, proud of her stubborn temper that forced others to give in first. And they would sit down to meals and pass one another in the rooms, watching each other's movements to avoid the necessity for speaking. The day had begun badly for Ada, and her anger increased as she brooded over her wrongs. Heavy and sullen by nature, her wrath came to a head hours after the provocation, burning with a steady heat when others were cooling down.

But as she was pegging out some towels in the yard she heard a discreet cough on the other side of the fence. Ada recognized the signal. It was her neighbour, the woman with the hairy lip, housekeeper to Aaron the Jew. It had taken Ada weeks to discover Mrs. Herring's physical defect, which she humoured by shaving. Now Ada could tell in an instant whether she was shaven or hairy, for when her lip bristled with hairs for lack of the razor, she peered over the fence so as to hide the lower part of her face. Ada, being used to such things, thought at


  ― 173 ―
first she was hiding a black eye. But who was there to give her one? Aaron the pawnbroker, not being her husband, could not take such a liberty.

She had introduced herself over the fence the week of Ada's arrival, giving her the history of the neighbourhood in an unceasing flow of perfect English, her voice never rising above a whisper. For days she would disappear altogether, and then renew the conversation by coughing gently on her side of the fence. This morning her lip was shaven, and she leaned over the fence, full of gossip. But Ada's sullen face caught her eye, and instantly she was full of sympathy, a peculiar look of falsity shining in her light blue eyes.

“Why, what's the matter, dearie?” she inquired.

“Oh, nuthin',” said Ada roughly.

“Ah, you mustn't tell me that! When my poor husband was alive, I've often looked in my glass and seen a face like that. He was my husband, and I suppose I should say no more, but men never brought any happiness to me or any other woman that I know of. The first day I set eyes on you, I said, ‘That's an unhappy woman.’”

“Well, yer needn't tell the bloomin' street,” growled Ada.

“What you want is love and sympathy, but I suppose your husband is too busy making money to spare the time for that. Ah, many's the time, when my poor dear husband was alive, did I pine for a kind word, and get a black look instead! And a woman can turn to no one in a trouble like that. She feels as if her own door had been slammed in her face. What you want is a cheerful outing with a


  ― 174 ―
sympathetic friend, but I hear you're little more than a prisoner in your own house.”

“Who told yer that?” cried Ada, flushing angrily.

“A little bird told me,” said the woman, with a false grin.

“Well, I'd wring its neck, if I 'eard it,” cried Ada. “And as fer bein' a prisoner, I'm goin' out this very afternoon.”

“Why, how curious!” cried Mrs. Herring. “This is my afternoon out. We could have a pleasant chat, if you have nothing better to do.”

Ada hesitated. Jonah always wanted to know where she was going, and had forbidden her to make friends with the neighbours, for in Cardigan Street friendship with neighbours generally ended in a fight or the police court. She had never defied Jonah before, but her anger was burning with a steady flame. She'd show him!

“I'll meet yer at three o'clock opposite the church,” she cried, and walked away.

She gave Jonah his meal in silence, and sent Ray off on a message before two o'clock. But Jonah seemed to have nothing to do this afternoon, and sat, contrary to custom, reading the newspaper. Ada watched the clock anxiously, fearing she would be baulked. But, as luck would have it, Jonah was suddenly called into the shop, and the coast was clear. It never took Ada long to dress; her clothes always looked as if they had been thrown on with a pitchfork, and she slipped down the outside stairs into the lane at the back. It was the first time she had gone out without telling Jonah where she was going and when she would be back. And afterwards she could never understand why she crept out in this furtive manner. Mrs. Herring was waiting, dressed in dingy black, a striking contrast to Ada's flaring colours. They walked up Regent Street, as Mrs. Herring said she wanted to buy a thimble.

But when they reached Redfern Street, Mrs. Herring put her hand suddenly to her breast and cried “Oh, dearie, if you could feel how my heart is beating! I really feel as if I am going to faint. I've suffered for years with my heart, and the doctor told me always to take a drop of something soothing, when I had an attack.”

They were opposite the “Angel”, no longer sinister and forbidding in the broad daylight. The enormous lamps hung white and opaque; the huge mirrors reflected the cheerful light of the afternoon sun. The establishment seemed harmless and respectable, like the grocer's or baker's. But from the swinging doors came a strong odour of alcohol, enveloping the two women in a vinous caress that stirred hidden desires like a strong perfume.

“Do you think we could slip in here without being seen?” said the housekeeper.

“If ye're so bad as all that, we can,” replied Ada.

Mrs. Herring turned and slipped in at the side door with the dexterity of customers entering a pawnshop, and Ada followed, slightly bewildered. The housekeeper, seeming quite familiar with the turnings, led the way to a small room at the back. Ada looked round with great curiosity. She had never entered a hotel before in this furtive fashion. In Cardigan Street she had always fetched her mother's


  ― 176 ―
beer in a jug from the bar. On the walls were two sporting prints of dogs chasing a hare, and a whisky calendar. On the table was a small gong, which Mrs. Herring rang. Cassidy himself, the landlord, answered the ring.

“Good dey, good dey to you, Mrs. Herring,” he said briskly. “The same as usual, I suppose? And what'll your friend take?” he added, grinning at Ada.

“My friend, Mrs. Jones,” said the housekeeper.

“Glad to meet you,” cried Cassidy. “A terrible hill this,” he continued, winking at Ada. “We should never see Mrs. Herring, if it wasn't for the hill.”

“Nothing for me,” said Ada, shaking her head.

“Now just a drop to keep me company,” begged Mrs. Herring.

As Ada continued to shake her head, Cassidy went out, and returned with a bottle of brandy and three glasses on a tray.

“Sure, I forgot to tell you I'm a father again; father number nine, unless I've lost count. Sure your friend will join us in a glass to wet the head of the baby?”

He filled three glasses as he spoke, and winked at Mrs. Herring. Ada's brain was in a whirl. She saw that she had been trapped, and that Mrs. Herring was a liar and a comedian. She might as well drink now she was here. But Jonah would kill her, if he smelt drink on her. Well, let him! It was little enough fun she got out of life anyhow. She nodded to Cassidy. They clinked the three glasses and drank, the landlord and Mrs. Herring at a gulp, Ada with tiny sips as if it were poison.

“Well, I'll leave you to your bit of gossip; I think


  ― 177 ―
I hear the child crying,” said the landlord, backing out of the door with a grin.

Mrs. Herring, who had forgotten her palpitations, filled her glass again, and sipped slowly to keep Ada company. In half an hour Ada finished her second glass. A pleasant glow had spread through her body. The weight was lifted off her mind, and she felt calm and happy. She thought of Jonah with indifference. What did he matter? She listened cheerfully to Mrs. Herring's ceaseless whisper, only catching the meaning of one word in ten.

“And many's the time, when my poor dear husband was alive, have I gone out meaning to throw myself into the harbour, and a drop of cordial has changed my mind.”

Ada nodded to show that she understood that the late Mr Herring was a brute and a tyrant.

“And then he went with the contingent to South Africa, and the next I heard was that he was dead. And the thought of my poor dear lying with his face turned to the skies would have driven me mad, if the doctor hadn't insisted on my taking a drop of cordial to bear my grief. And when I recovered, I vowed I would never marry again. The men dearie, are all alike. They marry one woman, and want twenty. And if you as much as look at another man, they smash the furniture and threaten to get a divorce. I can see you've found that out.”

“Ye're barkin' up the wrong tree,” said Ada. “My old man's as 'ard as nails, but 'e don't run after women. 'E's the wrong shape, see.”

Ada had never spent such a pleasant time in her life. She had never tasted brandy till that afternoon.


  ― 178 ―
Cardigan Street drank beer, and the glasses Ada had drunk at odd times had only made her sleepy without excitement. But this seductive liquid leapt through her veins, bringing a delicious languor and a sense of comfort. Her mind, dull and heavy by habit, ran on wheels. She wanted to interrupt Mrs. Herring to make some observations of her own which seemed too good to lose. She felt a silly impulse to ask her whether she was born with a moustache, who taught her to shave, whether she could grow a moustache if she left it alone. She wanted to ask why her palpitations had gone off so quickly, and why she seemed perfectly at home in the “Angel”, but her thoughts crowded heel on heel so fast that she had forgotten them before she could speak.

She remembered that a few weeks ago the housekeeper's husband had died of typhoid in the Never Never country, and Mrs. Herring had nursed him bravely to the end. She tried to reconcile this with his death this afternoon in the Boer War, and decided that it didn't matter. He must have died somewhere, for no one had ever seen him. She was discovering slowly that this woman was a consummate liar, who lied as the birds sing, but forgot her many inventions, a born liar without a memory. Suddenly Mrs. Herring said she must be going, and Ada got up to leave. She lurched as she stood, and pushed her chair over with a clumsy movement.

“I b'lieve I'm drunk,” she muttered, with a foolish titter.




  ― 179 ―

IV: Mrs. Partridge Lends a Hand

SINCE ten o'clock in the morning the large house, standing in its own grounds, had been invaded by a swarm of dealers, hook-nosed and ferret-eyed, prying into every corner, searching each lot for hidden faults, judging at a glance the actual value of every piece of furniture, their blood stirred with the hereditary joy in chaffering, for an auction is as full of surprises as a battle, the prices rising and falling according to the temper of the crowd. And they watched one another with crafty eyes that had long lost the power to see anything but the faults and defects in the property of others. Those who had commissions from buyers marked the chosen lots in their catalogue with a stumpy pencil.

Mother Jenkins was one of these. She was the auctioneer's scavenger, snapping up the dishonoured, broken remnants disdained by the others, buying for a song the job lots on the way to the rubbish-heap. All was fish that came to her net, for her second-hand shop in Bathurst Street had taught her to despise nothing that had an ounce of wear left in it. Her bids never ran beyond a few shillings, but to-day she had an important commission, twenty pounds to


  ― 180 ―
lay out on the furnishing of three rooms for a married couple. These were her windfalls. Sometimes she got a wedding order, and furnished the house out of her amazing collection, supplemented by her bargains at the next auction sale. This had brought her to the sale early, for the young couple, deciding to furnish in style, had exhausted her resources by demanding wardrobes, dressing-tables, and washstands with marble tops.

The young woman with the mop of red hair followed on her heels, amazed by the luxury of the interior harmonized in a scheme of colour. Her day-dreams, coloured by the descriptions of ducal mansions in penny novelettes, came suddenly true. And she lingered before carved cabinets, strange vases like frozen rainbows, and Oriental tapestry with the instinctive delight in luxury planted in women.

But Mother Jenkins had no time to spare. She had found the very thing for Pinkey, and led the way to the servants' quarters, hidden at the back of the house. Pinkey's visions of grandeur fled at the sight. The rooms were small, and a sour smell hung on the air, the peculiar odour of servants' rooms where ventilation is unknown. Pinkey recognized the curtains and drapes at a glance, the pick of a suburban rag-shop. One room was as bare as a prison cell, merely a place to sleep in, but the next was royally furnished with a wardrobe, toilet — table, and washstand, solid and old-fashioned like the generation it had outlived. By its look it had descended in regular stages from the bedrooms of the family to the casual guests' room and then to the servants.


  ― 181 ―
But Pinkey had seen nothing so beautiful at home, and her heart swelled at the thought of possessing such genteel furniture. Mother Jenkins explained that with a lick of furniture polish they would look as good as new, but Pinkey's only fear was that they would be too expensive. Then the dealer reckoned that she could get the lot for seven pounds. The only rivals she feared were women who, if they set their heart on anything, sometimes forced the price up till you could buy it for less in the shop.

Meanwhile the sale had begun, and in the distance Pinkey could hear the monotonous voice of the auctioneer forcing the bids up till he reached the limit. From time to time there was a roar of laughter as he cracked a joke over the heads of his customers. The buyers stood wedged like sardines in the room, craning their necks to see each lot as it was put up. As the crowd moved from room to room, Pinkey's excitement increased. Mother Jenkins had gone to the kitchen, where she always found a few pickings. She came back and found Pinkey's husband, the young man with the ugly face and dancing eyes, who was waiting outside with the cart, watching while Pinkey polished a corner of the wardrobe to show him its quality. She hurried them down to the kitchen to examine the linoleum on the floor, as it would fit their dining-room, if the worn parts were cut out.

The crowd moved like a mob of sheep into the servants rooms, standing in each other's way, tired of the strain on their attention. Mother Jenkins whispered that things would go cheap because the auctioneer was in a hurry to get to his lunch. Pinkey


  ― 182 ―
stood behind her, ready to poke her in the ribs if she wished her to keep on bidding.

“Now, gentlemen,” said the auctioneer, “lot 175. Duchesse wardrobe, dressing-table with bevelled mirrors, and marble-top washstand, specially imported from England by Mrs. Harper. What am I offered?”

“Specially imported from England?” cried a dealer. “Yes, came out in the first fleet.”

“What's that?” cried the auctioneer. “Thank you for telling me, Mr Isaacs.” And he began again: “What offer for this solid ash bedroom suite, imported in the first fleet, guaranteed by Mr Isaacs, who was in leg-irons and saw it.”

There was a roar of laughter at the dealer's discomfiture.

“Now, Mr Isaacs, how much are you going to bid, for old times' sake?” cried the auctioneer, pushing his advantage. But Isaacs had turned sulky.

“A pound,” said Mother Jenkins.

“No, mother, you don't mean it,” cried the auctioneer, grinning.

“That'll leave you nothing to pay your tram fare home.” But he went on: “I'm offered a pound for this solid ash bedroom suite that cost thirty guineas in London.”

The bids crawled slowly up to six pounds.

“It's against you, mother,” cried the auctioneer; “don't let a few shillings stand in the way of your getting married. I knew the men couldn't leave you alone with that face. Thank you, six-five.”

The old hag showed her toothless gums in a hideous smile, the woman that was left in the dried


  ― 183 ―
shell still tickled at the reference to marriage. But her look changed to one of intense pain as Pinkey, trembling with excitement, nudged her violently in the ribs as a signal to keep on bidding. However, there was no real opposition, and the bidding stopped suddenly at seven pounds, forced up to that price by a friend of Mother Jenkins's to increase her commission.

In the kitchen the auctioneer lost his temper, and knocked down to Mother Jenkins enough pots and pans to last Pinkey a lifetime for ten shillings before the others could get in a bid. Chook, who had borrowed Jack Ryan's cart for the day, drove off with his load in triumph, while Pinkey went with Mother Jenkins to her shop in Bathurst Street to sort out her curtains, bed-linen, and crockery from that extraordinary collection. Twenty pounds would pay for the lot, and leave a few shillings over.

One Saturday morning, two years ago, Pinkey had set out for the factory as usual, and had come home to dinner with her wages in her handkerchief and a wedding ring on her finger. Mrs. Partridge gave up novelettes for a week when she learned that her stepdaughter had married Chook that morning at the registry office. Partridge had taken the news with a look that had frightened the women; the only sign of emotion that he had given was to turn his back without a word on his favourite daughter. Since then they had lived with Chook's mother, as he had no money to furnish; but last month Chook had joined a syndicate of three to buy a five-shilling sweep ticket, which, to their amazement, drew a hundred-pound prize. With Chook's share they had


  ― 184 ―
decided to take Jack Ryan's shop in Pitt Street just round the corner from Cardigan Street. It was a cottage that had been turned into a shop by adding a false front to it. The rent, fifteen shillings a week, frightened Chook, but he reserved ten pounds to stock it with vegetables, and buy the fittings from Jack Ryan, who had tried to conduct his business from the bar of the nearest hotel, and failed. If the money had run to Jack's horse and cart, their fortunes would have been made.

Mrs. Partridge's wanderings had ended with the marriage of Pinkey. Only once had she contrived to move, and the result had frightened her, for William had mumbled about his lost time in his sleep. And she had lived in Botany Street for two years, a stone's throw from the new shop in Pitt Street. She remembered that Chook had helped to move her furniture in at their first meeting, and, not liking to be out-done in generosity, resolved to slip round after tea and lend a hand. She knew, if any woman did, the trouble of moving furniture and setting it straight. She prepared for her labours by putting on her black silk blouse and her best skirt, and as William was anchored by the fireside with the newspaper, she decided to wear her new hat with the ostrich feathers, twenty years too young for her face, which she had worn for three months on the quiet out of regard for William's feelings, for it had cost the best part of his week's wages, squeezed out in shillings and sixpences, the price of imaginary pounds of tea, butter, and groceries.

She found Chook with his mouth full of nails, hanging pictures at five shillings the pair; Pinkey,


  ― 185 ―
dishevelled, sweating in beads, covered with dust, her sleeves tucked up to the elbows, ordering Chook to raise or lower the picture half an inch to increase the effect. It was some time before Mrs. Partridge could find a comfortable chair where she ran no risk of soiling her best clothes, but when she did she smiled graciously on them, noting with intense satisfaction Pinkey's stare of amazement at the black hat, twenty years too young for her face.

“I thought I'd come round and give you a hand,” she explained.

“Thanks, Missis,” said Chook, thankful for even a little assistance.

Pinkey stared again at the hat, and Mrs. Partridge felt a momentary dissatisfaction with life in possessing such a hat without the right to wear it in public. In half an hour Chook and Pinkey had altered the position of everything in the room under the direction of Mrs. Partridge, who sat in her chair like a spectator at the play. At last they sat down exhausted and Mrs. Partridge, who felt as fresh as paint, gave them her opinion on matrimony and the cares of housekeeping. But Pinkey, unable to sit in idleness among this beautiful furniture, got to work with her duster.

“Ah,” said Mrs. Partridge, “it's natural to take a pride in the bit of furniture you start with, but when you've been through the mill like I 'ave, you'll think more of your own comfort. There was yer Aunt Maria wore 'er fingers to the bone polishing 'er furniture on the time-payment plan, an' then lost it all through the death of 'er 'usband, an' the furniture man thanked 'er kindly fer keepin' it in


  ― 186 ―
such beautiful order when 'e took it away. An' Mrs. Ross starved 'erself to buy chairs an' sofas, which she needed, in my opinion, being too weak to walk about; an' then 'er 'usband dropped a match, an' they 'ad the best fire ever seen in the street, an' 'ave lived in lodgings ever since.”

“That's all right,” said Chook uneasily, “but this ain't time-payment furniture, an' I ain't goin' ter sling matches about like some people sling advice.”

“That's very true,” said Mrs. Partridge, warming up to her subject, “but there's no knowin' 'ow careless yer may git when yer stomach's undermined with bad cookin'.”

“Wot rot ye're talkin'!” cried Chook. “Mother taught her to cook a fair treat these two years. She niver got anythin' to practise on in your 'ouse.”

“That's true,” said Mrs. Partridge, placidly. “I was never one to poison meself with me own cooking. When I was a girl I used ter buy a penn'orth of everythin', peas-pudden, saveloys, pies, brawn, trotters, Fritz, an' German sausage. Give me the 'am shop, an' then I know who ter blame, if anythin' goes wrong with me stomach.”

Chook gave his opinion of cookshops.

“Ah well,” said Mrs. Partridge, “what the eye doesn't see the 'eart doesn't grieve over, as the sayin' is! An' that reminds me. Elizabeth suffers from 'er 'eart, an' that means a doctor's bill which I could never understand the prices they charge, knowin' plenty as got better before the doctor could cure 'em an' so takin' the bread out of 'is mouth, as the sayin' is. Though I make it my business to be very smooth


  ― 187 ―
with them as might put somethin' nasty in the medsin an' so carry you off, an' none the wiser, as the sayin' is.”

“'Ere, this ain't a funeral,” cried Chook, in disgust.

“An' thankful you ought ter be that it ain't,” cried Mrs. Partridge, “after what I read in the paper only last week about people bein' buried alive oftener than dead, an' fair gave me the creeps thinkin' I could see the people scratchin' their way out of the coffin, an' sittin' on a tombstone with nuthin' but a sheet round 'em. It would cure anybody of wantin' ter die. I've told William to stick pins in me when my time comes.”

“Anybody could tell w'en you're dead,” said Chook.

“Why, 'ow?” cried Mrs. Partridge, eagerly.

“Yer'll stop gassin' about yerself,” cried Chook, roughly.

Mrs. Partridge started to smile, and then stopped. It dawned slowly on her mind that she was insulted, and she rose to her feet.

“Thank's fer yer nasty remark,” she cried. “That's all the thanks I get fer comin' to give a 'elpin' 'and. But I know when I'm not wanted.”

“Yer don't,” said Pinkey, “or yer'd 'ave gone 'ours ago.”

Mrs. Partridge turned to go, the picture of offended dignity, when her eyes fell on an apparition in the doorway, and she quailed. It was William, left safely by the fireside for the night, and now glowering, not at her as she swiftly divined, but at the hat with the drooping feathers, twenty years too young for her face. For the first time in her life she lost her nerve,


  ― 188 ―
but with wonderful presence of mind, she smiled in her agony.

“Why, there you are, William,” she cried. “Yer gave me quite a start. I was just tryin' on Elizabeth's new 'at, to see if it suited me.”

As she spoke, she tore out the hatpins with feverish dexterity, and thrust the hat into Pinkey's astonished hand.

“Take it, yer little fool,” she whispered, savagely.

Her face looked suddenly old and withered under the scanty grey hair.

“Good evenin', Mr Partridge — glad ter see yer,” cried Chook, advancing with outstretched hand; but the old man ignored him. His eyes travelled slowly round the room, taking in every detail of the humble furniture. The others stood silent with a little fear in their hearts at the sight of this old man with the face of a sleep-walker; but suddenly Pinkey walked up to him, and, reaching on tiptoe, kissed him, her face pink with emotion. It was the first time since her unforgiven marriage. And she hung on him like a child, her wonderful hair, the colour of a new penny, heightening the bloodless pallor of the old man's face. The stolid grey eyes turned misty, and, in silence, he slowly patted his daughter's cheek.

Chook kept his distance, feeling that he was not wanted. Mrs. Partridge, who had recovered her nerve, came as near cursing as her placid, selfish nature would permit. She could have bitten her tongue for spite. She thought of a thousand ways of explaining away the hat. She should have said that a friend had lent it to her; that she had bought


  ― 189 ―
it for half price at a sale. She had meant to show it to William some night after his beer with a plausible story, but his sudden appearance had upset her apple-cart, and the lie had slipped out unawares. She wasn't afraid of William, she scorned him in her heart. And now that little devil must keep it, for if she went back on her word it would put William on the track of other little luxuries that she squeezed out of his wages unknown to him — luxuries whose chief charm lay in their secrecy. She felt ready to weep with vexation. Instead she cried gaily:

“I've been tellin' them what a nice little 'ome they've got together. I've seen plenty would be glad to start on less.”

Partridge seemed not to hear his wife's remark. His mind dulled by shock and misfortune, was slowly revolving forgotten scenes. He saw with incredible sharpness of view his first home, with its few sticks of second-hand furniture like Pinkey's, and Pinkey's mother, the dead image of her daughter. That was where he belonged — to the old time, when he was young and proud of himself, able to drink his glass and sing a song with the best of them. Someone pulled him gently. He looked round, wondering what he was doing there. But Pinkey pulled him across the room to Chook, who was standing like a fool. He looked Chook up and down as if he were a piece of furniture, and then, without a word, held out his hand. The reconciliation was complete.

“Well, we must be goin', William,” said Mrs. Partridge, wondering how she was to get home


  ― 190 ―
without a hat; but Partridge followed Chook into the kitchen, where a candle was burning. Chook held the candle in his hand to show the little dresser with the cups and saucers and plates arranged in mathematical precision. The pots and pans were already hung on hooks. They had all seen service, and in Chook's eyes seemed more at home than the brand-new things that hung in the shops. As Chook looked round with pride, he became aware that Partridge was pushing something into his hand. It seemed like a wad of dirty paper, and Chook held it to the candle in surprise. He unrolled it with his fingers, and recognized banknotes.

“'Ere, I don't want yer money,” cried Chook, offering the wad of paper to the old man; but he pushed it back into Chook's hand with an imploring look.

“D'ye mean it fer Liz?” asked Chook.

Partridge nodded; his eyes were full of tears.

“Yous are a white man, an' I always knew it. Yer niver 'ad no cause ter go crook on me, but I ain't complainin',” cried Chook hoarsely.

The tears were running a zigzag course over the grey stubble of Partridge's cheeks.

“Yer'll be satisfied if I think as much of 'er as yous did of her mother?” asked Chook, feeling a lump in his throat.

Partridge nodded, swallowing as if he were choking.

“She's my wife, an' the best pal I ever 'ad, an' a man can't say more than that,” cried Chook proudly, but his eyes were full of tears.




  ― 191 ―
Without a word the grey-haired old man shook his head and hurried to the front door, where Mrs. Partridge was waiting impatiently. She had forced the hat on Pinkey in a speech full of bitterness, and had refused the loan of a hat to see her home. To explain her bare head, she had prepared a little speech about running down without a hat because of the fine night, but Partridge was too agitated to notice what she wore.

When they stepped inside, the first thing that met Chook's eyes was the hat with the wonderful feathers lying on a chair where Pinkey had disdainfully thrown it. He stood and laughed till his ribs ached as he thought of the figure cut by Mrs. Partridge. He looked round for Pinkey to join in, and was amazed to find her in tears.

“W'y, wot's the matter, Liz?” he cried, serious in a moment.

“Nuthin',” said Pinkey, drying her eyes “I was cryin' because I'm glad father made it up with you. 'E's bin a good father to me. W'en Lil an' me was kids, 'e used ter take us out every Saturday afternoon, and buy us lollies,” and the tears flowed again.

Chook wisely decided to say nothing about the banknotes till her nerves were steadier.

“'Ere, cum an' try on yer new 'at,” he cried, to divert her thoughts.

“Me?” cried Pinkey, blazing. “Do yer think I'd put anythin' on my 'ead belongin' to 'er?”

“All right,” said Chook, with regret, “I'll give it to mother fer one of the kids.”

“Yer can burn it, if yer like,” cried Pinkey.

Chook held up the hat, and examined it with


  ― 192 ―
interest. It was quite unlike any he had seen before.

“See 'ow it look on yer,” he coaxed.

“Not me,” said Pinkey, glaring at the hat as if it were Mrs. Partridge.

But Chook had made up his mind, and after a short scuffle, he dragged Pinkey before the glass with the hat on her head.

“That's back ter front, yer silly,” she said, suddenly quiet.

A minute later she was staring into the glass, silent and absorbed, forgetful of Mrs. Partridge, Chook, and her father. The hat was a dream. The black trimmings and drooping feathers set off the ivory pallor of her face and made the wonderful hair gleam like threads of precious metal. She turned her head to judge it at very angle, surprised at her own beauty. Presently she lifted it off her head as tenderly as if it were a crown, with the reverence of women for the things that increase their beauty. She put it down as if it were made of glass.

“I'll git Miss Jones to alter the bow, an' put the feathers farther back,” she said, like one in a dream.

“I thought yer wouldn't wear it at any price,” said Chook, delighted, but puzzled.

“Sometimes you talk like a man that's bin drinkin',” said Pinkey, with the faintest possible smile.




  ― 193 ―

V: A Death in the Family

IT was past ten o'clock, and one by one, with a sudden, swift collapse, each shop in Botany Road extinguished its lights, leaving a blank gap in the shining row of glass windows. Mrs. Yabsley turned into Cardigan Street and, taking a firmer grip of her parcels, mounted the hill slowly on account of her breath. She still continued to shop at the last minute, in a panic, as her mother had done before her, proud of her habit of being the last customer at the butcher's and the grocer's. She looked up at the sky and, being anxious for the morrow, tried to forecast the weather. A sharp wind was blowing, and the stars winked cheerfully in a windswept sky. There was every promise of a fine day, but to make sure, she tried the corn on her left foot. The corn gave no sign, and she thought with satisfaction of her new companion, Miss Perkins.

For years she had searched high and low for some penniless woman to share her cottage and Jonah's allowance, and her pensioners had gone out of their way to invent new methods of robbing her. But Miss Perkins (whom she had found shivering and hungry on the doorstep as she was going to bed


  ― 194 ―
one night and had taken in without asking questions, as was her habit) guarded Mrs. Yabsley's property like a watchdog. For Cardigan Street, when it learned that Mrs. Yabsley only worked for the fun of the thing, had leaped to the conclusion that she was rolling in money. They knew that she had given Jonah his start in life, and felt certain that she owned half of the Silver Shoe.

So the older residents had come to look on Mrs. Yabsley as their property, and they formed a sort of club to sponge on her methodically. They ran out of tea, sugar and flour, and kept the landlord waiting while they ran up to borrow a shilling. They each had their own day, and kept to it, respecting the rights of their friends to a share of the plunder. None went away empty-handed, and they looked with unfriendly eyes on any new arrivals who might interfere with their rights. They thought they deceived the old woman, and the tea and groceries had a finer flavour in consequence; but they would have been surprised to know that Mrs. Yabsley had herself fixed her allowance from Jonah at two pounds a week and her rent.

“That's enough money fer me to play the fool with, an' if it don't do much good, it can't do much 'arm,” she had remarked, with a mysterious smile, when he had offered her anything she needed to live in comfort.

The terrible Miss Perkins had altered all that. She had discovered that Mrs. Harris was paying for a new hat with the shilling a week she got for Johnny's medicine; that Mrs. Thorpe smelt of drink half an hour after she had got two shillings towards the


  ― 195 ―
rent; that Mr Hawkins had given his wife a black eye for saying that he was strong enough to go to work again. Mrs. Yabsley had listened with a perplexing smile to her companion's cries of indignation.

“I could 'ave told yer all that meself,” she said, “but wot's it matter? Who am I to sit in judgment on 'em? They know I've got more money than I want, but they're too proud to ask fer it openly. People with better shirts on their backs are built the same way, if all I 'ear is true. I've bin poor meself an' yer may think there's somethin' wrong in me 'ead, but if I've got a shillin', an' some poor devil's got nuthin', I reckon I owe 'im sixpence. It isn't likely fer you to understand such things, bein' brought up in the lap of luxury, but don't yer run away with the idea that poor people are the only ones who are ashamed to beg an' willin' to steal.”

Mrs. Yabsley had asked no questions when she had found Miss Perkins on the step, but little by little her companion had dropped hints of former glory, and then launched into a surprising tale. She was the daughter of a rich man, who had died suddenly, and left her at the mercy of a stepmother and she had grown desperate and fled, choosing to earn her own bread till her cousin arrived, who was on his way from England to marry her. On several occasions she had forgotten that her name was Perkins, and when Mrs. Yabsley dryly commented on this, she confessed that she had borrowed the name from her maid when she fled. And she whispered her real name in the ear of Mrs. Yabsley, who marvelled, and promised to keep the secret.

Mrs. Yabsley, who was no fool, looked for some


  ― 196 ―
proof of the story, and was satisfied. The girl was young and pretty, and gave herself the airs of a duchess. Mrs. Swadling, indeed, had spent so much of her time at the cottage trying to worm her secret from the genteel stranger that she unconsciously imitated her aristocratic manner and way of talking, until Mr Swadling had brought her to her senses by getting drunk and giving her a pair of black eyes, which destroyed all resemblance to the fascinating stranger. Mrs. Swadling had learned nothing, but she assured half the street that Miss Perkins's father had turned her out of doors for refusing to marry a man old enough to be her father, and the other half that a forged will had robbed her of thousands and a carriage and pair.

Cardigan Street had watched the aristocracy from the gallery of the theatre with sharp, envious eyes, and reported their doings to Mrs. Yabsley, but Miss Perkins was the first specimen she had ever seen in the flesh. In a week she learned more about the habits of the idle rich than she had ever imagined in a lifetime. Her lodger lay in bed till ten in the morning, and expected to be waited on hand and foot. And when Mrs. Yabsley could spare a minute, she described in detail the splendours of her father's home. She talked incessantly of helping Mrs. Yabsley with the washing, but she seemed as helpless as a child, and Mrs. Yabsley, noticing the softness and whiteness of her hands, knew that she had never done a stroke of work in her life. Then, with the curious reverence of the worker for the idler, she explained to her lodger that she only worked for exercise.




  ― 197 ―
When Miss Perkins came, she had nothing but what she stood up in; but one night she slipped out under cover of darkness, and returned with a dress-basket full of finery, with which she dazzled Mrs. Yabsley's eyes in the seclusion of the cottage. The basket also contained a number of pots and bottles with which she spent hours before the mirror, touching up her eyebrows and cheeks and lips. When Mrs. Yabsley remarked bluntly that she was young and pretty enough without these aids, she learned with amazement that all ladies in society used them. Mrs. Yabsley never tired of hearing Miss Perkins describe the splendours of her lost home. She recognized that she had lived in another world, where you lounged gracefully on velvet couches and life was one long holiday.

“It's funny,” she remarked, “'ow yer run up agin things in this world. I never 'ad no partic'lar fancy fer dirty clothes an' soapsuds, but in my time, which ever way I went, I never ran agin the drorin'-room carpet an' the easy-chairs. It was the boilin' copper, the scrubbin' brush, an' the kitchen floor every time.”

She was intensely interested in Miss Perkins's cousin, who was on his way from England to marry her. She described him so minutely that Mrs. Yabsley would have recognized him if she had met him in the street. His income, his tastes and habits, his beautiful letters to Miss Perkins, filled Mrs. Yabsley with respectful admiration. As a special favour Miss Perkins promised to read aloud one of his letters announcing his departure from England, but found that she had mislaid it. She made up for it by


  ― 198 ―
consulting Mrs. Yabsley on the choice of a husband. Mrs. Yabsley, who had often been consulted on this subject, gave her opinion.

“Some are ruled by 'is 'andsome face, an' some by 'ow much money 'e's got, but they nearly all fergit they've got ter live in the same 'ouse with 'im. Women 'ave only one way of lookin' at a man in the long run, an' if yer ask my opinion of any man, I want ter know wot 'e thinks about women. That's more important, yer'll find in the long run, than the shape of his nose or the size of 'is bankin' account.”

Mrs. Yabsley still hid her money, but out of the reach of rats and mice, and Miss Perkins had surprised her one day by naming the exact amount she had in her possession. And she had insisted on Mrs. Yabsley going with her to the Ladies' Paradise and buying a toque, trimmed with jet, for thirty shillings, a fur tippet for twenty-five shillings, and a black cashmere dress, ready-made, for three pounds. Mrs. Yabsley had never spent so much money on dress in her life, but Miss Perkins pointed out that the cadgers in Cardigan Street went out better dressed than she on Sunday, and Mrs. Yabsley gave in. Miss Perkins refused to accept a fur necklet, slightly damaged by moth, reduced to twelve-and-six, but took a plain leather belt for eighteen pence. They were going out to-morrow for the first time to show the new clothes, and she had left Miss Perkins at home altering the waistband of the skirt and the hooks on the bodice, as there had been some difficulty in fitting Mrs. Yabsley's enormous girth.

Mrs. Yabsley's thoughts came to a sudden stop as


  ― 199 ―
she reached the steep part of the hill. On a steep grade her brain ceased to work, and her body became a huge, stertorous machine, demanding every ounce of vitality to force it an inch farther up the hill. Always she had to fight for wind on climbing a hill, but lately a pain like a knife in her heart had accompanied the suffocation, robbing her of all power of locomotion. The doctor had said that her heart was weak, but, judging by the rest of her body, that was nonsense, and a sniff at the medicine before she threw it away had convinced her that he was merely guessing.

When she reached the cottage she was surprised to find it in darkness, but, thinking no harm, took the key from under the doormat and went in. She lit the candle and looked round, as Jonah had done one night ten years ago. The room was unchanged. The walls were stained with grease and patches of dirt, added, slowly through the years as a face gathers wrinkles. The mottoes and almanacs alone differed. She looked round, wondering what errand had taken Miss Perkins out at that time of night. She was perplexed to see a sheet of paper with writing on it pinned to the table. Miss Perkins knew she was no scholar. Why had she gone out and left a note on the table? The pain eased in her heart, and strength came back slowly to her limbs as the suffocation in her throat lessened. At last she was able to think. She had left Miss Perkins busy with her needle and cotton, and she noticed with surprise that the clothes were gone.

With a sudden suspicion she went into the bedroom with the candle, and looked in the wardrobe


  ― 200 ―
made out of six yards of cretonne. The black cashmere dress, the fur tippet, and the box containing the toque with jet trimmings were gone! She shrank from the truth, and, candle in hand, examined every room, searching the most unlikely corners for the missing articles. She came back and, taking the note pinned to the table, stared at it with intense curiosity. What did these black scratches mean? For the first time in her life she wished she were scholar enough to read. She had had no schooling and when she grew up it seemed a poor way to spend the time reading, when you might be talking. Somebody always told you what was in the newspapers, and if you wanted to know anything else, why, where was your tongue? She examined the paper again, but it conveyed no meaning to her anxious eyes.

And then in a flash she saw Miss Perkins in a new light, The woman's anxiety about her was a blind to save her money from dribbling out in petty loans. Mrs. Yabsley, knowing that banks were only traps, still hid her money so carefully that no one could lay hands on it. So that was the root of her care for Mrs. Yabsley's appearance. She held up the note, and regarded it with a grimly humorous smile. She knew the truth now, and felt no desire to read what was written there — some lie, she supposed — and dropped it on the floor.

Suddenly she felt old and lonely, and wrapping a shawl round her shoulders, went out to her seat on the veranda. It was near eleven, and the street was humming with life. The sober and thrifty were trudging home with their loads of provisions; gossips were gathered at intervals; sudden jests were bandied,


  ― 201 ―
conversations were shouted across the width of the street, for it was Saturday night, and innumerable pints of beer had put Cardigan Street in a good humour. The doors were opened, and the eye travelled straight into the front rooms lit with a kerosene lamp or a candle. Under the veranda at the corner the Push was gathered, the successors of Chook and Jonah, young and vicious, for the larrikin never grows old.

She looked on the familiar scenes that had been a part of her life since she could remember. The street was changed, she thought, for a new generation had arrived, scorning the old traditions. The terrace opposite, sinking in decay, had become a den of thieves, the scum of a city rookery. She felt a stranger in her own street, and saw that her money had spoilt her relations with her neighbours. Once she could read them like a book, but these people came to her with lies and many inventions for the sake of a few miserable shillings. She wondered what the world was coming to. She threw her thoughts into the past with an immense regret. A group on the kerbstone broke into song:

Now, honey, yo' stay in yo' own back yard,
Doan min' what dem white chiles do;
What show yo' suppose dey's a-gwine to gib
A little black coon like yo'?
So stay on this side of the high boahd fence,
An', honey, doan cry so hard;
Go out an' a-play, jes' as much as yo' please,
But stay in yo' own back yard.

The tune, with a taking lilt in it, made no impression on the old woman. And she thought with regret


  ― 202 ―
that the old tunes had died out with the people who sang them. These people had lost the trick of enjoying themselves in a simple manner. Ah for the good old times, when the street was as good as a play, and the people drank and quarrelled and fought and sang without malice! A meaner race had come in their stead, with meaner habits and meaner vices. Her thoughts were interrupted by a tinkling bell, and a voice that cried:

“Peas an' pies, all 'ot! — all 'ot!”

It was the pieman, pushing a handcart. He went the length of the street, unnoticed. She thought of Joey, dead and gone these long years, with his shop on wheels and his air of prosperity. His widow lived on the rent of a terrace of houses, but his successor was as lean as a starved cat, for the people's tastes had changed, and the chipped-potato shop round the corner took all their money. She thought with pride of Joey and the famous wedding feast — the peas, the pies, the saveloys, the beer, the songs and laughter. Ah well, you could say what you liked, the good old times were gone for ever. Once the street was like a play, and now …Her thoughts were disturbed again by a terrific noise in the terrace opposite. The door of a cottage flew open, and a woman ran screaming into the road, followed by her husband with a tomahawk. But as the door slammed behind him, he suddenly changed his mind and, turning back, hammered on the closed door with frantic rage, calling on someone within to come out and be killed. Then, as he grew tired of trying to get in, he remembered his wife, but she had disappeared.

The crowd gathered about, glad of a diversion, and


  ― 203 ―
the news travelled across the street to Mrs. Yabsley on her veranda. Doughy the baker, stepping down unexpectedly from the Woolpack to borrow a shilling from his wife, had found her drinking beer in the kitchen with Happy Jack. And while Doughy was hammering on the front door, Happy Jack had slipped out at the back, and was watching Doughy's antics over the shoulders of his pals. Presently Doughy grew tired and, crossing the street, sat on the kerbstone in front of Mrs. Yabsley's, with his eye on the door. And as he sat, he caressed the tomahawk, and carried on a loud conversation with himself, telling all the secrets of his married life to the street. Cardigan Street was enjoying itself. The crowd dwindled as the excitement died out, and Doughy was left muttering to himself. From the group at the corner came the roar of a chorus:

You are my honey, honeysuckle, I am the bee,
I'd like to sip the honey sweet from those red lips, you see;
I love you dearly, dearly, and I want you to love me;
You are my honey, honeysuckle, I am the bee.

Doughy still muttered, but the beer had deadened his senses and his jealous anger had evaporated. Half an hour later his wife crossed the street cautiously and went inside. Doughy saw her and, having reached the maudlin stage, got up and lurched across the street, anxious to make it up and be friends, Quite like the old times, thought Mrs. Yabsley, when the street was as good as a play. And suddenly remembering her dismal thoughts of an hour ago, she saw in a flash that she had grown old and that the street had remained young. The past, on which her


  ― 204 ―
mind dwelt so fondly, was not wonderful. It was her youth that was wonderful, and now she was grown old. She recognized that the street was the same, and that she had changed — that the world is for ever beginning for some and ending for others.

It was nearly midnight, and, with a shiver, she pulled the shawl over her shoulders and took a last look at the street before she went to bed. Thirty years ago since she came to live in it, when half the street was an open paddock! If Jim could see it now he wouldn't know it! The thought brought the vision of him before her eyes. She was an old woman now, but in her mind's eye he remained for ever young and for ever joyous, the smart workman in a grey cap, with the brown moustache and laughing eyes, who was nobody's enemy but his own. Something within her had snapped when he died, and she had remained on the defensive against life, expecting nothing, surprised at nothing, content to sit out the performance like a spectator at the play.

She thought of to-morrow, and decided to pay a surprise visit to the Silver Shoe before the people set out for church. There was something wrong with Ada, she felt sure. Jonah had failed to look her in the eye when she had asked news of Ada the last time. Well, she would go and see for herself, and talk Ada into her senses again. She locked the door and went to bed.

She gave Jonah and Ada a surprise, but not in the way she intended. On Sunday morning it happened that Mrs. Swadling sent over for a pinch of tea, and, growing impatient, ran across to see what was keeping Tommy. She found that he could make no one


  ― 205 ―
hear, and growing suspicious, called the neighbours. An hour later the police forced the door, and found Mrs. Yabsley dead in bed. The doctor said that she had died in her sleep from heart failure. Mrs. Swadling, wondering what had become of Miss Perkins, found a note lying on the floor, and wondered no more when she read:

DEAR MRS. YABSLEY,

I am sorry that I can't stay for the outing to-morrow, but my cousin came out of Darlinghurst jail this morning, and we are going to the West to make a fresh start. All I told you about my beautiful home was quite true, only I was the upper housemaid. I am taking a few odds and ends that you bought for the winter, as I could never find out where you hid your money. I have searched till my back ached, and quite agree with you that it is safer than a bank. I left your clothes at Aaron's pawnshop, and will post you the ticket. When you get this I shall be safe on the steamer, which is timed to leave at ten o'clock. I hope someone will read this to you, and tell you that I admire you immensely, although I take a strange way of showing it.

  In haste,  

MAY




  ― 206 ―

VI: The Two-up School

THE silence of sleeping things hung over the Haymarket, and the three long, dingy arcades lay huddled and lifeless in the night, black and threatening against a cloudy sky. Presently, among the odd nocturnal sounds of a great city, the vague yelping of a dog, the scream of a locomotive, the furtive step of a prowler, the shrill cry of a feathered watchman from the roost, the ear caught a continuous rumble in the distance that changed as it grew nearer into the bumping and jolting of a heavy cart.

It was the first of a lumbering procession that had been travelling all night from the outlying suburbs — Botany, Fairfield, Willoughby, Smithfield, St. Peters, Woollahra and Double Bay — carrying the patient harvest of Chinese gardens laid out with the rigid lines of a chessboard. A sleepy Chinaman, perched on a heap of cabbages, pulled the horse to a standstill, and one by one the carts backed against the kerbstone forming a line the length of the arcades, waiting patiently for the markets to open. And still, muffled in the distance, or growing sharp and clear, the continuous rumble broke the silence, the one persistent sound in the brooding night.

Presently the iron gates creaked on rusty hinges, the long, silent arcades were flooded with the glow from clusters of electric bulbs, and, with the shuffle of feet on the stone flags, the huge market woke slowly to life, like a man who stretches himself and yawns. Outside, the carters encouraged the horses with short, guttural cries, the heavy vehicles bumped on the uneven flags, the horses' feet clattered loudly on the stones as the drivers backed the carts against the stalls, and the unloading began.

In half an hour the grimy stalls had disappeared under piles of green vegetables, built up in orderly masses by the Chinese dealers. The rank smell of cabbages filled the air, the attendants gossiped in a strange tongue, and the arcades formed three green lanes, piled with the fruits of the earth. Here and there the long green avenues were broken with splashes of colour where piles of carrots, radishes and rhubarb, the purple bulbs of beetroot, the creamy white of cauliflowers, and the soft green of eschalots and lettuce broke the dominant green of the cabbage.

The markets were transformed; it was an invasion from the East. Instead of the sharp, broken cries of the dealers on Saturday night, the shuffle of innumerable feet, the murmur of innumerable voices in a familiar tongue, there was a silence broken only by strange guttural sounds dropping into a sing-song cadence, the language of the East. Chinamen stood on guard at every stall, slant-eyed and yellow, clothed in the cheap slops of Sydney, their impassive features carved in fantastic ugliness, surveying the scene with inscrutable eyes that had opened first on rice-fields,


  ― 208 ―
sampans, junks, pagodas, and the barbaric trappings of the silken East.

At four o'clock the sales began, and the early buyers arrived with the morose air of men who have been robbed of their sleep. There were small dealers, Dagoes from the fruit shops, greengrocers from the suburbs, with a chaff-bag slung across their arm, who buy by the dozen. They moved silently from stall to stall, pricing the vegetables, feeling the market, calculating what they would gain by waiting till the prices dropped, making the round of the markets before they filled the chaff-bags and disappeared into the darkness doubled beneath their loads.

Chook and Pinkey reached the markets by the first workman's tram in the morning. As the rain had set in, Chook had thrown the chaff-bags over his shoulders, and Pinkey wore an old jacket that she was ashamed to wear in the daytime. By her colour you could tell that they had been quarrelling as usual, because she had insisted on coming with Chook to carry one of the chaff-bags. And now, as she came into the light of the arcades, she looked like a half-drowned sparrow. The rain dripped from her hat, and the shabby thin skirt clung to her legs like a wet dishcloth. Chook looked at her with rage in his heart. These trips to the market always rolled his pride in the mud, the pride of the male who is willing to work his fingers to the bone to provide his mate with fine plumage.

The cares of the shop had told on Pinkey's looks, for the last two years spent with Chook's mother had been like a long honeymoon, and Pinkey had led the life of a lady, with nothing to do but scrub and wash


  ― 209 ―
and help Chook's mother keep her house like a new pin. So she had grown plump and pert like a well-fed sparrow, but the care and worry of the new shop had sharpened the angles of her body. Not that Pinkey cared. She had the instinct for property, the passionate desire to call something her own, an instinct that lay dormant and undeveloped while she lived among other people's belongings. Moreover, she had discovered a born talent for shopkeeping. With her natural desire to please, she enchanted the customers, welcoming them with a special smile, and never forgetting to remember that it was Mrs. Brown's third child that had the measles, and that Mrs. Smith's case puzzled the doctors. They only wanted a horse and cart, so that she could mind the shop while Chook went hawking about the streets, and their fortunes were made. But this morning the rain and Chook's temper had damped her spirits, and she looked round with dismay on the cold, silent arcades, recalling with a passionate longing the same spaces transformed by night into the noisy, picturesque bazaar through which she had been accustomed to saunter as an idler walks the block on a Saturday morning.

Pinkey waited, shivering in a corner, while Chook did the buying. He walked along the stalls, eyeing the sellers and their goods with the air of a freebooter, for, as he always had more impudence than cash, he was a redoubtable customer. There was always a touch of comedy in Chook's buying, and the Chinamen knew and dreaded him, instantly on the defensive, guarding their precious cabbages against his predatory fingers, while Chook parted with his shillings as


  ― 210 ―
cheerfully as a lioness parts with her cubs. A pile of superb cauliflowers caught his eye.

“'Ow muchee?” he inquired.

“Ten shilling,” replied the Chinaman.

“Seven an' six,” answered Chook, promptly.

“No fear,” replied the seller, relapsing into Celestial gravity and resuming his dream of fan-tan and opium.

Chook walked the length of the arcade and then came back. These were the pick of the market, and he must have them. Suddenly he pushed a handful of silver into the Chinaman's hand and began to fill his bag with the cauliflowers. With a look of suspicion the seller counted the money in his hand; there were only eight shillings.

“'Ere, me no take you money,” cried he, frantic with rage, trying to push the silver into Chook's hand. And then Chook overwhelmed him with a torrent of words, swearing that he had taken the money and made a sale. The Chinaman hesitated and was lost.

“All li, you no pickum,” he said, sullenly.

“No fear!” said Chook, grabbing the largest he could see.

In the next arcade he bought a dozen of rhubarb, Chin Lung watching him suspiciously as he counted them into the bag.

“You gottum more'n a dozen,” he cried.

“What a lie!” cried Chook, with a stare of outraged virtue. “I'll push yer face in if yer say I pinched yer rotten stuff,” and he emptied the rhubarb out of the bag, dexterously kicking the thirteenth bunch under the stall.




  ― 211 ―
“Now are yez satisfied?” he cried, and began counting the bunches into the bag two by two. As the Chinaman watched sharply, he stooped to move a cabbage that he was standing on, and instantly Chook whipped in two bunches without counting.

“Twelve,” said Chook, with a look of indignation. “I 'ope ye're satisfied: I am.”

When the bags were full, Pinkey was blue with the cold, and the dawn had broken, dull and grey, beneath the pitiless fall of rain. It was no use waiting for such rain to stop, and they quarrelled again because Chook insisted that she should wait in the markets till he went home with one chaff-bag and came back for the other. Each bag, bulging with vegetables, was nearly the size of Pinkey, but the expert in moving furniture was not to be dismayed by that. She ended the dispute by seizing a bag and trudging out into the rain, bent double beneath the load, leaving Chook to curse and follow.

Halfway through breakfast Pinkey caught Chook's eye fixed on her in a peculiar manner.

“Wot are yez thinkin' about?” she asked, with a smile.

“Well, if yer want ter know, I'm thinkin' wot a fool I was to marry yer,” said Chook, bitterly.

A cold wave swept over Pinkey. It flashed through her mind that he was tired of her; that he thought she wasn't strong enough to do her share of the work. Well, she could take poison or throw herself into the harbour.

“Ah!” she said, cold as a stone. “Anythin' else?”

“I mean,” said Chook, stumbling for words, “I ought to 'ave 'ad more sense than ter drag yez out


  ― 212 ―
of a good 'ome ter come 'ere an' work like a bus 'orse.”

“Is that all?” inquired Pinkey.

“Yes; wot did yer think?” said Chook, miserably. “It fair gives me the pip ter see yer 'umpin' a sack round the stalls, when I wanted ter make yer 'appy an' comfortable.”

Pinkey took a long breath of relief. She needn't drown herself, then, he wasn't tired of her.

“An' who told yer I wasn't 'appy an' comfortable?” she inquired, “'cause yer can go an' tell 'em it's only a rumour. An' while ye're about it, yous can tell 'em I've got a good 'ome, a good 'usband, an' everythin' I want.” Here she looked round the dingy room as if daring it to contradict her. “An' as fer the good 'ome I came from, I wasn't wanted there, an' was 'arf starved; an' now the butcher picks the best joint an' if I lift me finger, a big 'ulkin' feller falls over 'imself ter run an' do wot I want.”

Chook listened without a smile. Then his lips twitched and his eyes turned misty. Pinkey ran at him, crying, “Yer silly juggins, if I've got yous, I've got all I want.” She hung round his neck, crying for pleasure, and Mrs. Higgs knocked on the counter till she was tired before she got her potatoes.

The wet morning gave Pinkey a sore throat, and that finished Chook. The shop gave them a bare living, but with a horse and cart he could easily double their takings, and Pinkey could lie snug in bed while he drove to Paddy's Market in the morning. He looked round in desperation for some way of making enough money to buy Jack Ryan's horse and cart, which were still for sale. He could think


  ― 213 ―
of nothing but the two-up school, which had swallowed all his spare money before he was married. Since his marriage he had sworn off the school, as he couldn't spare the money with a wife to keep.

All his life Chook had lived from hand to mouth. He belonged to the class that despises its neighbours for pinching and scraping, and yet is haunted by the idea of sudden riches falling into its lap from the skies. Certainly Chook had given Fortune no excuse for neglecting him. He was always in a shilling sweep, a sixpenny raffle, a hundred to one double on the Cup. He marked pak-a-pu tickets, took the kip at two-up, and staked his last shilling more readily than the first. It was always the last shilling that was going to turn the scale and make his fortune. Well, he would try his luck again unknown to Pinkey, arguing with the blind obstinacy of the gambler that after his abstinence fate would class him as a beginner, the novice who wins a sweep with the first ticket he buys, or backs the winner at a hundred to one because he fancies its name.

Chook and Pinkey had been inseparable since their marriage, and he spent a week trying to think of some excuse for going out alone at night. But Pinkey, noticing his gloomy looks, decided that he needed livening up, and ordered him to spend a shilling on the theatre. Instantly Chook declined to go alone, and Pinkey fell into the trap. She had meant to go with him at the last moment, but now she declared that the night air made her cough. Chook could tell her all about the play when he came home. This in itself was a good omen, and


  ― 214 ―
when two black cats crossed his path on the way to the tram, it confirmed his belief that his luck was in.

When Chook reached Castlereagh Street, he hesitated. It was market-day on Thursday, and the two sovereigns in his pocket stood for his banking account. They would last for twenty minutes, if his luck were out, and he would never forgive himself. But at that moment a black cat crossed the footpath rapidly in front of him, and his courage revived. That made the third tonight. Men were slipping in at the door of the school, which was guarded by a sentinel. Chook, being unknown, waited till he saw an acquaintance, and was then passed in. The play had not begun, and his long absence from the alley gave his surroundings an air of novelty.

The large room, furnished like a barn, gave no sign of its character, except for the ring, marked by a huge circular seat, the inner circle padded and covered with canvas to deaden the noise of falling coins. Above the ring the roof rose into a dome where the players pitched the coins. The gaffers, a motley crowd, were sitting or standing about, playing cards or throwing deck quoits to kill time till the play began. The money-changer, his pockets bulging with silver, came up, and Chook turned his sovereigns into half-crowns. Chook looked with curiosity at the crowd; they were all strangers to him.

The cards and quoits were dropped as the boxer entered the ring. It was Paddy Flynn himself, a retired pugilist, with the face and neck of a bull, wearing a sweater and sandshoes, his arms and


  ― 215 ―
legs bared to show the enormous muscles of the ancient athlete. He threw the kip and the pennies into the centre, and took his place on a low seat at the head of the ring.

The gaffers scrambled for places, wedged in a compact circle, the spectators standing behind them to advise or take a hand as occasion offered. Chook looked at the kip, a flat piece of wood, the size of a butter-pat, and the two pennies, blackened on the tail and polished on the face. A gaffer stepped into the ring and picked them up.

“A dollar 'eads! A dollar tails! 'Arf a dollar 'eads!” roared the gamblers, making their bets.

“Get set! — get set!” cried the boxer, lolling in his seat with a nonchalant air; and in a twinkling a bright heap of silver lay in front of each player, the wagers made with the gaffers opposite. The spinner handed his stake of five shillings to the boxer, who cried “Fair go!”

The spinner placed the two pennies face down on the kip, and then, with a turn of the wrist, the coins flew twenty feet into the air. For a second there was a dead silence, every eye following the fall of the coins. One fell flat, the other rolled on its edge, every neck craned to follow its movements. One head and one tail lay in the ring.

“Two ones!” cried the boxer; and the stakes remained untouched.

The spinner tossed the coins again, and, as they fell, the gaffers cried “Two heads!”

“Two heads,” repeated the boxer, with the decision of a judge.

The next moment a shower of coins flew like


  ― 216 ―
spray across the ring; the tails had paid their dollars to the winning heads. Three times the spinner threw heads, and the pile of silver in front of Chook grew larger. Then Chook, who was watching the spinner, noticed that he fumbled the pennies slightly as he placed them on the kip. Success had shaken his nerve, and instantly Chook changed his cry to “A dollar tails — a dollar tails!”

The coins spun into the air with a nervous jerk, and fell with the two black tails up. The spinner threw down the kip, and took his winnings from the boxer — five pounds for himself and ten shillings for the boxer.

As another man took the kip, the boxer glared at the winning players. “How is it?” he cried with the voice of a footpad demanding charity, and obeying the laws of the game, the winners threw a dollar or more from their heap to the boss.

For an hour Chook won steadily, and then at every throw the heap of coins in front of him lessened. A trot or succession of seven tails followed, and the kip changed hands rapidly, for the spinner drops the kip when he throws tails. Chook stopped betting during the trot, obeying an instinct. Without counting, his practised eye told him that there were about five pounds in the heap of coins in front of him. The seventh man threw down the kip, and Chook, as if obeying a signal, rose from his seat and walked into the centre of the ring. He handed five shillings to the boxer, and placed the pennies tail up on the kip. His stake was covered with another dollar, the betting being even money.

“Fair go!” cried the boxer.




  ― 217 ―
Chook jerked the coins upward with the skill of an old gaffer; they flew into the dome, and then dropped spinning. As they touched the canvas floor, a hundred voices cried “Two heads!”

“Two heads!” cried the boxer, and a shower of coins flew across the ring to the winners.

“A dollar or ten bob heads!” cried the boxer, staking Chook's win. Chook spun the coins again, and as they dropped heads, the boxer raked in one pound.

“Wot d'ye set?” he cried to Chook.

“The lot,” cried Chook, and spun the coins. Heads again, and Chook had two pounds in the boxer's hands, who put ten shillings aside in case Chook “threw out”, and staked thirty. Chook headed them again, and was three pounds to the good. The gaffers realized that a trot of heads was coming, and the boxer had to offer twelve to ten to cover Chook's stake. For the seventh time Chook threw heads, and was twelve pounds to the good. This was his dream come true, and with the faith of the gambler in omens, he knew that was the end of his luck. He set two pounds of his winnings, and tossed the coins.

“Two ones!” cried the gamblers, with a roar.

Chook threw again. One penny fell flat on its face; the other rolled on its edge across the ring. In a sudden, deadly silence, a hundred necks craned to follow its movements. Twenty or thirty pounds in dollars and half-dollars depended on the wavering coin. Suddenly it stopped, balanced as if in doubt, and fell on its face.

“Two tails!” cried the gaffers, and the trot of


  ― 218 ―
heads was finished. Chook's stake was swept away, and the boxer handed him ten pounds. Chook tossed a pound to him for commission. He acknowledged it with a grunt, and looking round the ring at the winning players cried out “How is it? — how is it?” With his other winnings Chook had over fifteen pounds in his pocket, and he decided to go, although the night was young. As he went to the stairs, the boxer cried out, “No one to leave for five minutes!” following the custom when a big winner left the room, to prevent a swarm of cadgers, lug-biters, and spielers begging a tram fare, a bed, a cup of coffee from the winner. When Chook reached the top of the staircase, the G.P.O. clock began to strike, and Chook stopped to listen, for he had forgotten the lapse of time. He counted the last stroke, eleven, and then, as if it had been a signal, came the sound of voices and a noise of hammering from the front door. The next moment the doorkeeper ran up the narrow staircase crying “The Johns are here!”

For a moment the crowd of gamblers stared, aghast; then the look of trapped animals came into their faces, and with the noise of splintering wood below, they made a rush at the money on the floor. The boxer ran swearing into the ring to hide the kip and the pennies, butting with his bull shoulders against a mob of frenzied gaffers mad with fear and greed, grabbing at any coins they could reach in despair of finding their own. The news spread like fire. The school was surrounded by a hundred policemen in plain clothes and uniform; every outlet from the alley was watched and guarded. A cold scorn of the police filled Chook's mind. For months the


  ― 219 ―
school ran unmolested, and then a raid was planned in the spirit of sportsmen arranging a drive of rabbits for a day's outing. This raid meant capture by the police, an ignominious procession two by two to the lock-up, a night in the cells unless bail was found, and a fine and a lecture from the magistrate in the morning. To some it meant more. To the bank clerk it meant the sack; to the cashier who was twenty pounds short in his cash, an examination of his books and discovery; to the spieler who was wanted by the police, scrutiny by a hundred pair of official eyes.

The gaffers ran here and there bewildered, cursing and swearing in an impotence of rage. Like trapped rats the men ran to the windows and doors, but the room, fortified with iron bars and barbed wire, held them like a trap. The boxer cried out that bail would be found for the captured, but his bull roar was lost in the din.

There was a rush of heavy police boots on the stairs, the lights were suddenly turned out, and in the dark a wild scramble for liberty. Someone smashed a window that was not barred, and a swarm of men fought round the opening, dropping one by one on to the roof of some stables. The first man through shouted something and tried to push back, but a frenzied stream of men pushed him and the others into the arms of the police, who had marked this exit beforehand. Chook found himself on the roof, bleeding from a cut lip, and hatless. Below him men were crouching on the roofs like cats, to be picked off at the leisure of the police.

He could never understand how he escaped. He


  ― 220 ―
stood on the roof awaiting capture quietly, as resistance was useless, picked up a hat two sizes too large for him, and, walking slowly to the end of the roof, ducked suddenly under an old signboard that was nailed to a chimney. Every moment he expected a John to walk up to him, but, to his amazement, none came. As a man may walk unhurt amid a shower of bullets, he had walked unseen under twenty policemen's eyes. From Castlereagh Street came a murmur of voices. The theatres were out, and a huge crowd, fresh from the painted scenes and stale odours of the stalls and gallery, watched with hilarious interest the harlequinade on the roofs. In half an hour a procession was formed, two deep, guarded by the police, and followed by a crowd stumbling over one another to keep pace with it, shouting words of encouragement and sympathy to the prisoners. Five minutes later Chook slithered down a veranda post, a free man, and walked quietly to the tram.




  ― 221 ―

VII: The “Angel” Loses a Customer

SIX months after the death of Mrs. Yabsley, Ada and Mrs. Herring sat in the back parlour of the Angel sipping brandy. They had drunk their fill and it was time to be going, but Ada had no desire to move. She tapped her foot gently as she listened to the other woman's ceaseless flow of talk, but her mind was elsewhere. She had reached the stage when the world seemed a delightful place to live in; when it was a pleasure to watch the people moving and gesticulating like figures in a play, without jar or fret, as machines move on well-oiled cogs.

There was nothing to show that she had been drinking, except an uncertain smile that rippled over her heavy features as the wind breaks the surface of smooth water. Mrs. Herring was as steady as a rock, but she knew without looking that the end of her nose was red, for drink affected that organ as heat affects a poker. Ada looked round with affection on the small room with the sporting prints, the whisky calendar, and the gong. For months past she had felt more at home there than at the “Silver Shoe.”

She had never forgotten the scene that had followed her first visit to this room, when Jonah,


  ― 222 ―
surprised by her good humour, had smelt brandy on her breath. The sight of a misshapen devil, with murder in his eyes, spitting insults, had sobered her like cold water. She had stammered out a tale of a tea-room where she had been taken ill, and brandy had been brought in from the adjoining hotel. Mrs. Herring, who had spent a lifetime in deceiving men, had prepared this story for her as one teaches a lesson to a child, but she had forgotten it until she found herself mechanically repeating it, her brain sobered by the shock. For a month she had avoided the woman with the hairy lip, and then the death of her mother had removed the only moral barrier that stood between her and hereditary impulse.

Since then she had gone to pieces. Mrs. Herring had prescribed her favourite remedy for grief, a drop of cordial, and Jonah for once found himself helpless, for Mrs. Herring taught Ada more tricks than a monkey. Privately she considered Ada a dull fool, but she desired her company, for she belonged to the order of sociable drunkards, for whom drink has no flavour without company, and who can no more drink alone than men can smoke in the dark. Ada was an ideal companion, rarely breaking the thread of her ceaseless babble, and never forgetting to pay for her share. It was little enough she could squeeze out of Aaron, and often she drank for the afternoon at Ada's expense.

She looked anxiously at Ada, and then at the clock. For she drank with the precision of a patient taking medicine, calculating to a drop the amount she could carry, and allowing for the slight increase of giddiness when she stepped into the fresh air of


  ― 223 ―
the streets. But to-day she felt anxious, for Ada had already drunk a glass too much, and turned from her coaxings with an obstinate smile. The more she drank, she thought, the less she would care for what Jonah said when she got home. Mrs. Herring felt annoyed with her for threatening to spoil a pleasant afternoon, but she talked on to divert her thoughts from the brandy.

“And remember what I told you, dearie. Every woman should learn to manage men. Some say you should study their weak points, but that was never my way. They all like to think their word is law, and you can do anything you please if you pretend you are afraid to do anything without asking their permission. And always humour them in one thing. Now, Aaron insists on punctuality. His meals must be ready on the stroke, and once he is fed, I can do as I please. Now, do be ruled by me, dearie, and come home.”

But Ada had turned unmanageable, and called for more drink. Mrs. Herring could have slapped her. Her practised eye told her that Ada would soon be too helpless to move, and she thought, with a cringing fear, of Aaron the Jew, and her board and lodging that depended on his stomach.

Outside it had begun to rain, and Joe Grant, a loafer by trade and a lug-biter by circumstance, shifted from one foot to another, and stared dismally at the narrow slit between the swinging doors of the “Angel”, where he knew there was warmth, and light, and comfort — everything that he desired. The rain, fine as needle-points, fell without noise, imperceptibly covering his clothes and beard with


  ― 224 ―
moisture. The pavements and street darkened as if a shadow had been thrown over them, and then shone in irregular streaks and patches of light, reflected from the jets of light that suddenly appeared in the shop windows. Joe looked at the clock through the windows of the bar. It was twenty to six. The rain had brought the night before its time, and Joe wondered what had become of Mrs. Jones and her pal. He had had the luck to see her going in at the side door, and she was always good for a tray bit when she came out. Failing her, he must depend on the stream of workmen, homeward bound, who always stopped at the Angel for a pint on their way home.

Suddenly the huge white globes in front of the hotel spluttered and flashed, piercing the darkness and the rain with their powerful rays. The bar, as suddenly illumined, brilliant with mirrors and glass, invited the weary passenger in to share its comforts. Joe fingered the solitary coin in his pocket — threepence. It was more than the price of a beer to him; it was the price of admission to the warm, comfortable bar every night, for the landlord was the friend of every man with the price of a drink in his pocket, and once inside, he could manage to drink at other people's expense till closing time. He kept an eye on the side door for Ada and Mrs. Herring, at the same time watching each pedestrian as he emerged from the darkness into the glare of the electric lights.

The fine points of rain had gradually increased to a smart downfall, that drummed on the veranda overhead and gurgled past his feet in the gutter.


  ― 225 ―
Behind him, from a leak in the pipe, the water fell to the ground with a noisy splash as if someone had turned on a tap. Joe felt that he hated water like a cat. His watery blue eyes, fixed with a careless scrutiny on every face, told him in an instant whether the owner was a likely mark that he could touch for a drink, but his luck was out. He decided that the two women must have slipped out by another door.

Jonah, who had been caught in the shower, stopped for a moment under the veranda, anxious to get back to the Silver Shoe before closing time. Joe let him pass without stirring a muscle; he knew him. If you asked him for a drink, he offered you work. But, as Jonah hesitated before facing the rain again, a sudden anger flamed in his mind at the sight of Jonah's gold watch-chain and silver-mounted umbrella. Cripes, he knew that fellow when he knocked about with the Push, and now he was rolling in money! And with the sudden impulse of a suicide who throws himself under a train, he stepped up to Jonah.

“Could I 'ave a word with yer, Mr Jones?” he mumbled.

“'Ello, Smacker! Just gittin' 'ome, like myself?” said Jonah.

“Not much use gittin' 'ome to an empty 'ouse,” said Joe, with a doleful whine, “an' I've earned nuthin' this week.”

“'Ow do yer expect to find work, when the only place yer look fer it is in the bottom of a beer-glass?” said Jonah.

“I 'ave me faults, none knows better than meself,”


  ― 226 ―
said Joe humbly, “but thinkin' of them won't fill me belly on a night like this.”

“Now look 'ere,” said Jonah, “I'm in a 'urry. I won't give yer any money, but if ye're 'ungry, come across the street, an' I'll buy yer a meal.”

Joe hesitated, but the thought of good money being wasted on food was too much for him, and he played his last card.

“Look, I'll tell yer straight, Mr Jones; it's no use tryin' to pull yer leg. I can git all the tucker I want for the askin', but I'm dyin' for a beer to cheer me up an' keep out the cold.”

He smiled at Jonah with an air of frankness, hoping to play on Jonah's vanity by this cynical confession, but his heart sank as Jonah replied “No, not a penny for drink,” and prepared to dive into the rain.

“'Orl right, boss,” muttered Joe; and then, half to himself, he added “'Ard luck, to grudge a man a pint, with 'is own missis inside there gittin' as full as a tick.”

“What's that yer say?” cried Jonah, turning pale.

“Nuthin',” muttered Joe, conscious that he had made a mistake.

But a sudden light flashed on Jonah. Ada had lied to him from the beginning. She had told him that she got the drink at Paddy Boland's in the Haymarket, a notorious drinking-den for women, where spirits were served to customers, disguised as light refreshments. The fear of a public scandal in a room full of women had alone prevented him from going there to find her. It was Mrs. Herring's craft


  ― 227 ―
to throw Jonah on the wrong scent, and sip comfortably in the back parlour of the Angel, safe from detection, a stone's throw from the Silver Shoe. Jonah turned and walked in at the side door, leaving Joe with the uneasy feeling of the man who killed the goose to get the golden eggs.

Ada had just rung the gong, insisting on another drink with the fatuous obstinacy of drunkards. She lolled in her chair, her hat tilted over one ear, watching the door for the return of Cassidy with the tray and glasses, and wondering dimly why Mrs. Herring's voice sounded far away, as if she were speaking through a telephone. Mrs. Herring, the tip of her nose growing a brighter red with drink and vexation, was scolding and coaxing by turns in a rapid whisper. Suddenly she stopped, her eyes fixed in a petrified stare at an apparition in the doorway. It was the devil himself, Ada's husband, the hunchback. As he stood in the doorway, his eyes travelled from her to his wife. His face turned white, a nasty greyish white, his eyes snapped like an angry cat's, and then his face hardened in a sneer. But Ada, who was fast losing consciousness of her identity, stared at her husband without fear or surprise. The deadly silence was broken by the arrival of Cassidy, who nearly ran into Jonah with the tray.

“Beg pardon,” said he, briskly, and looking down found himself staring into the face of a grinning corpse.

“Don't mind me, Cassidy,” said the corpse, speaking. “She can stand another glass, I think.”

Cassidy put the tray down with a jerk that upset the glasses.




  ― 228 ―
“I'm very sorry this should have happened, Mr Jones,” he stammered. “I'm very …”

“Of course you are,” cried Jonah. “Ye're sorry fer anythin' that interferes with yer business of turning men and women into swine.”

“Come now,” said Cassidy, making a last stand on his dignity, “this is a public house, and I am bound to serve drink to anyone that asks for it. As a matter of fact, I didn't know the lady was in this condition till the barman sent me in to see what could be done.”

“You're a liar, an' a fat liar. I hate fat liars — I don't know why — an' if yer tell another, I'll ram yer teeth down yer throat. She's been comin' 'ere for months, an' you've been sending her home drunk for the sake of a few shillings, to poison my life and make her name a byword in the neighbourhood. Now, listen to me! You'll not serve that woman again with drink under any pretext whatever.”

“I should be glad to oblige you; but this is a public house, as I said before …”

He stopped as Jonah took a step forward, his fists clenched, transformed in a moment into Jonah the larrikin, king of the Cardigan Street Push.

“D'ye remember me, Cassidy?” he cried. “I've sent better men than you to the 'orspital in a cab. D'ye remember w'en yer were a cop with one stripe, an' we smashed every window in Flanagan's pub for laggin'? D'ye remember the time yer used ter turn fer safety down a side street w'en yer saw us comin?”

Cassidy's face stiffened for a moment, the old policeman coming to life again at the sight of his natural enemy, the larrikin. But years of ease had


  ― 229 ―
buried the guardian of the law under layers of fat. He stepped hastily back from Jonah's fists.

“No, I won't hit yer; yer might splash,” cried Jonah bitterly.

And Cassidy, forgetting that the dreaded Push was scattered to the winds, and trembling for the safety of his windows, spoke in a changed voice.

“I'll do anything to meet your wishes, Mr Jones. There's no call to rake up old times. We've both got on since then, and it won't pay us to be enemies. I promise you faithfully that your wife shan't be served with drink here.”

“I'm glad to 'ear it,” said Jonah; “an' now yer better 'elp me ter git 'er 'ome.”

He looked round the room. There were only himself, Cassidy, and Ada. Mrs. Herring, who had been paralysed by the sight of the devil in the shape of a hunchback, had found herself on the footpath, sober as a judge, without very well knowing how she got there.

Ada, stupefied with brandy, and tired over the long conversation, had fallen asleep on the table. Jonah went to the door and called Joe, who was listening dismally to the hum of voices raised in argument and the pleasant clink of glasses in the bar, now filled with workmen carrying their bags of tools, their faces covered with the sweat and grime of the day.

“Fetch me a cab, Smacker,” he said. “My wife's been taken ill. She fainted in the street, and they brought her here to recover.”

“Right y'are, boss,” cried Joe. “She turned giddy as she was walkin' past, an' yer tried to pull 'er round with a drop of brandy.”




  ― 230 ―
He repeated the words like a boy reciting a lesson, feeling anxiously with his thumb as he spoke, wondering if the coin Jonah had pushed into his hand was a florin or a half-dollar.

Cassidy and Joe, one on each side, helped Ada into the cab. Her feet scraped helplessly over the flagged pavement her head lolled on her shoulder, and the baleful white gleam of the huge electric lamps fell like limelight on her face contracted in an atrocious leer.

The “Silver Shoe” was closed and in darkness, and Jonah drew a breath of relief. The neighbours were at their tea, and he could get his shameful burden in unseen. Prendergast, the cabman, helped him to drag Ada across the shop to the foot of the stairs, where with an oath he threw her across his shoulder, and ran up the winding staircase as if he were carrying a bag of chaff.

Suddenly the door on the landing opened, throwing a flood of light on their faces, and Jonah was astonished to see Miss Grimes, trim and neat, looking in alarm from him to the cabman and his burden. As Prendergast dropped Ada on the couch, she took a step forward.

“What has happened? Is she hurt?” she asked, bending over Ada; but the next moment she turned away.

This unconscious movement of disgust maddened Jonah. What was she doing there to see his humiliation?

“No, she's not hurt,” said Jonah dryly. “But wot are you doing 'ere?” he added.

His tone nettled the young woman, and she coloured.




  ― 231 ―
“I'm sorry I'm in the way,” she said stiffly, “but Mr Johnson locked up, and was anxious to get away, and as I was giving Ray his lesson, I offered to stay with him till someone came.”

“I beg yer pardon,” said Jonah. “I'm much obliged to yer fer mindin' the kid, but I didn't want yer to see this.”

“I've known it all the time,” said Clara, quietly.

“Ah,” said Jonah, understanding many things in a flash.

He caught sight of Ray, staring open-mouthed at his mother lying so strangely huddled on the couch.

“Yer mother's tired, Ray,” he said. “Go an' boil the kettle; she'll want some tea when she wakes up.”

“That's 'ow I 'ave ter lie to everybody; an' I suppose they all know the truth, an' nod an' wink behind my back,” he cried bitterly. “I've tried all I know; but now 'er mother's gone, I'm fair beat. People envy me because I've got on, but they little know wot a millstone I've got round my neck.”

He lifted his head, and look steadily at Ada snoring in a drunken sleep on the couch. And to Clara's surprise, his face suddenly changed; tears stood in his eyes.

“Poor devil! I don't know that she's to blame altogether. It's in her blood. Her father went the same way. My money's done 'er no good. She'd 'ave been better off in Cardigan Street on two pounds a week.”

Clara was surprised at the pity in his voice. She thought that he loathed and despised his wife. Suddenly Jonah looked up at her.




  ― 232 ―
“Will yer meet me to-morrow afternoon?” he asked abruptly.

“Why?” said Clara, alarmed and surprised.

“I want yer to 'elp me. Since 'er mother died, she's gone from bad to worse. I've got no one to 'elp me, an' I feel I'll burst if I don't talk it over with somebody.”

“I hardly know,” replied Clara, taken by surprise.

“Say the Mosman boat at half past two, an' I'll be there,” said Jonah brusquely.

“Very well,” said Clara.




  ― 233 ―

VIII: The Pipes of Pan

CIRCULAR QUAY, shaped like a bite in a slice of bread, caught the eye like a moving picture. The narrow strip of roadway, hemmed in between the Customs House and the huge wool stores, was alive with the multitudinous activity of an ant-hill. A string of electric cars slid past the jetties in parallel lines or climbed the sharp curve to Phillip Street; and every minute cars, loaded with passengers from the dusty suburbs, swung round the corners of the main streets and stopped in front of the ferries. And as the cars stopped, the human cargo emptied itself into the roadway and hurried to the turnstiles, harassed by the thought of missing the next boat.

From the waterside, where the great mail steamers lay moored along the Quay, came the sudden rattle of winches, the cries of men unloading cargo, and the shrill hoot of small steamers crossing the bay. Where the green waters licked the piles and gurgled under the jetties, waterside loafers sat on the edge of the wharves intently watching a fishing-line thrown out. Men in greasy clothes and flannel shirts, with the look of the sea in their eyes, smoked and spat as they watched the ships in brooding


  ― 234 ―
silence. For of all structures contrived by the hands of man, a ship is the most fascinating. It is so complete, so perfect in its devices and ingenuity, a house and a habitation for men set adrift on the waste of waters, plunging headlong into danger and romance with its long spars and coiled ropes, its tarry sailors roaring a sea-chanty, and the common habits of eating and sleeping accomplished in a spirit of adventure.

Two streams, mainly women, met at the turnstiles — mothers and children from the crowded, dusty suburbs, drawn by the sudden heat of an autumn sun in a cloudless sky to the harbour for a day in the open air, and the leisured ladies of the North Shore, calm and collected, dressed in expensive materials, crossing from the fashionable waterside suburbs to the Quay to saunter idly round the Block, look in the shops, and drink a cup of tea.

Jonah, who had been standing outside the Mosman ferry for the last half-hour, looked at the clock in the Customs House opposite, and swore to himself. It was on the stroke of three, and she would miss the boat, as usual. It was always the same — she was always late; and when he had worked himself into a fury, deciding to wait another minute, and then to go home, she would suddenly appear breathless, with a smile and an apology that took the words out of his mouth.

He watched each tram as it stopped, looking for one face and figure among the moving crowd, for he had learned to know her walk in the distance while her features were a blur. For months past he had endured that supreme tyranny — the domination of


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the woman — till his whole life seemed to be spent between thinking about her and waiting for her at appointed corners. The hours they spent together fled with incredible speed, and she always shortened the flying minutes by coming late, with one of half a dozen excuses that he knew by heart.

Their first meeting had been at the Quay the day after he had brought Ada home drunk from the “Angel”, and since then a silent understanding had grown between them that they should always meet there and cross the water, as Jonah's conspicuous figure made recognition very likely in the streets and parks of the city.

The first passion of his life — love of his child — had for ever stamped on his brain the scenes and atmosphere of Cardigan Street, the struggle for life on the Road, and the march of triumph to the “Silver Shoe”. And this, the second passion of his life — love of a woman — was set like a stage-play among the wide spaces of sea and sky, the flight of gulls, the encircling hills, and the rough, salt breath of the harbour.

Suddenly he saw her crossing the road, threading her way between the electric cars, and noted with intense satisfaction the distinction of her figure, clothed in light tweed, with an air of scrupulous neatness in which she could hold her own with the rich idlers from the Shore. She smiled at him with her peculiar, intense look, and then frowned slightly. Jonah knew that something was wrong, and remembered that he had forgotten to raise his hat, an accomplishment that she had taught him with much difficulty.




  ― 236 ―
“So sorry to be late, but I couldn't really help it. I'll tell you presently,” she said, as they passed the turnstiles.

Jonah knew by her voice that she was in a bad temper, and his heart sank. The afternoon that he had waited for and counted on for nearly a week would be spoiled. Never before in his life had his pleasures depended on the humour or caprice of anyone, but he had learned with dismal surprise that a word or a look from this woman could make or mar the day for him. He gave her a sidelong look, and saw she was angry by a certain hardness in her profile, and, as he stared moodily at the water, he wondered if all women were as mutable and capricious. In his dealings with women — shop-hands who moved at his bidding like machines — he had never suspected these gusts of emotion that ended as suddenly as they began. Ada had the nerves of a cow.

Over the way the Manly boat was filling slowly with mothers and children and stray couples. A lamentable band on the upper deck mixed popular airs with the rattle of winches. The Quay was alive with ferry-boats, blunt-nosed and squat like a flat-iron, churning the water with invisible screws. A string of lascars from the P. & O. boat caught his eye with a patch of colour, the white calico trousers, the gay embroidered vests, and the red or white turbans bringing a touch of the East to Sydney. Suddenly the piles of the jetty slipped to the rear, and the boat moved out past the huge mail-steamers from London, Marseilles, Bremen, Hongkong, and Yokohama lying at the wharves.




  ― 237 ―
As they rounded the point the warships swung into view, grim and forbidding, with the ugly strength of bulldogs. A light breeze flicked the waters of the harbour into white flakes like the lash of a whip, and Jonah felt the salt breath of the sea on his cheeks. His eye travelled over the broad sheet of water from the South Head, where the long rollers of the Pacific entered and broke with a muscular curve, to the shores broken by innumerable curves into bays where the moving waters, already tamed, lost their beauty like a caged animal, and spent themselves in fretful ripples on the sand. Overhead the sky, arched in a cloudless dome of blue, was reflected in the turquoise depths of the water.

Then Mosman came in sight with its shaggy slopes and terra-cotta roofs, the houses, on the pattern of a Swiss chalet, standing with spaces between, fashionable and reserved. Jonah thought of Cardigan Street, and smiled. They walked in silence along the path to Cremorne Point, the noise of birds and the rustling of leaves bringing a touch of the country to Jonah.

“Had you been waiting long?” asked Clara, suddenly.

“Since twenty past two,” replied Jonah.

“The impudence of some people is incredible,” she said. “I've just lost a pupil and a guinea a quarter — it's the same thing. The mother thought I should buy the music for the child out of the guinea. That means a hat and a pair of gloves or a pair of boots less through no fault of my own. You don't seem very sympathetic,” she cried, looking sharply at Jonah.




  ― 238 ―
“I ain't,” said Jonah, calmly.

“Well, I must say you don't pick your words. A guinea may be nothing to you, but it means a great deal to me.”

“It ain't that,” said Jonah, “but I hate the thought of yer bein' at the beck an' call of people who ain't fit to clean yer boots. Ye're like a kid 'oldin' its finger in the fire an' yellin' with pain. There's no need fer yer to do it. I've offered ter make yer cashier in the shop at two pounds a week, if yer'd put yer pride in yer pocket.”

“And throw a poor girl out of work to step into her shoes.”

“Nuthin' of the sort, as I told yer. She's been threatenin' fer months to git married, but it 'urts 'er to give up a good billet an' live on three pounds a week. Yer'd do the bloke a kindness, if yer made me give 'er the sack.”

“It's no use. My mother wouldn't listen to it. For years she's half starved herself to keep me out of a shop. She can never forget that her people in England are gentry.”

“I don't know much about gentry, but I could teach them an' yer mother some common sense,” said Jonah.

“We won't discuss my mother, if you please,” said Clara, and they both fell silent.

They had reached the end of Cremorne Point, a spur of rock running into the harbour. Clara ran forward with a cry of pleasure, her troubles forgotten as she saw the harbour lying like a map at her feet. The opposite shore curved into miniature bays, with the spires and towers of the city etched on a filmy


  ― 239 ―
blue sky. The mass of bricks and mortar in front was Paddington and Woollahra, leafless and dusty where they had trampled the trees and green grass beneath their feet; the streets cut like furrows in a field of brick. As the eye travelled eastward from Double Bay to South Head the red roofs became scarcer, alternating with clumps of sombre foliage. Clara looked at the scene with parted lips as she listened to music. This frank delight in scenery had amused Jonah at first. It was part of a woman's delight in the pretty and useless. But, as his eyes had become accustomed to the view, he had begun to understand. There was no scenery in Cardigan Street, and he had been too busy in later years to give more than a hasty glance at the harbour. There was no money in it.

From where they sat they could see a fleet of tramps and cargo-boats lying at anchor on their right. Jonah examined them attentively, and then his eyes turned to the city, piled massively in the sunlight, studded with spires and towers and tall chimneys belching smoke into the upper air. It was this city that had given him life on bitter terms, a misshapen and neglected street-arab, scouring the streets for food, of less account than a stray dog.

His eye softened as he looked again at the water. As the safest place for their excursions they had picked by chance on the harbour with its fleet of steamers that threaded every bay and cove, and little by little, in the exaltation of the senses following his love for this woman, the swish of the water slipping past the bows, the panorama of rock and sandy beach, and the salt smell of the sea were for ever part of


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this strange, emotional condition where reality and dream blended without visible jar or shock.

He turned and looked at the woman beside him. She was silent, looking seaward. He stared at her profile, cut like a cameo, with intense satisfaction. The low, straight forehead, the straight nose, the full curving chin, satisfied his eye like a carved statue. About her ear, exquisitely small and delicate, the wind had blown a fluff of loose hair, and on this insignificant detail his eye dwelt with rapture. This woman's face pleased him like music. And as he looked, all his desires were melted and confounded in a wave of tenderness, caressing and devotional, the complete surrender of strength to weakness. He wanted to take her in his arms, and dared not even touch her hand. There had been no talk of love between them, and she had kept him at a distance with her air of distinction and superficial refinements. She seemed to spread a silken barrier between them that exasperated and entranced him. Some identity in his sensations puzzled him, and as he looked, with a flash he was in Cardigan Street again, stooping over his child with a strange sensation in his heart, learning his first lesson in pity and infinite tenderness. Another moment and he would have taken her in his arms. Instead of that, he said “I'm putting that line of patent leather pumps in the catalogue at seven and elevenpence, post free.”

Instantly Clara became attentive.

“You mean those with the buckles and straps? They'll go like hot cakes!”

“They ought to,” said Jonah, dryly. “Post free brings them a shade below cost price.”




  ― 241 ―
“A shade below cost?” said Clara in surprise. “I thought you bought them at seven and six?”

“So I do,” replied Jonah, “but add twelve per cent. for working expenses, an' where's the profit? Packard's manager puts them in the window at eight an' six, an' wonders why they don't sell. His girls come straight from the factory and buy them off me. They're the sort I want — waitresses, dressmakers, shop-hands, bits of girls that go without their meals to doll themselves up. They want the cheapest they can get, an' they're always buying.”

And at once they plunged into a discussion on the business of the Silver Shoe. Clara always listened with fascination to the details of buying and selling. Novelettes left her cold, but the devices to attract customers, the lines that were sold at a loss for advertisement, the history of the famous Silver Shoe that Jonah sold in thousands at a halfpenny a pair profit, astonished her like a fairy-tale that happened to be real.

One day, while shopping at Jordan's mammoth cash store, her ear had caught the repeated clink of metal, and turning her head, she stood on the stairs, thunderstruck. She saw a square room lit with electric bulbs in broad daylight. It was the terminus of a multitude of shining brass tubes leading from counters the length of a street away, and, with an incessant popping, the tubes dropped a cascade of gold and silver before the cashiers, silent and absorbed in this river of coin. She felt that she was looking at the heart of this huge machine for drawing money from the pockets of the multitude. The “Silver Shoe”, that


  ― 242 ―
poured a stream of golden coins into the pockets of the hunchback, fascinated her in a like manner.

They had talked for half an hour, intent on figures which Jonah dotted on the back of an envelope, when they were surprised by a sudden change in the light. The sun was low in the sky, dipping to the horizon, where its motion seemed more rapid, as if it had gathered speed in the descent. The sudden heat had thrown a haze over the sky, and the city with its spires and towers was transformed. The buildings floated in a liquid veil with the unreality of things seen in a dream. The rays of the sun, filtered through bars of crystal cloud, fell not crimson nor amber nor gold, but with the mystic radiance of liquid pearls, touching the familiar scene with Eastern magic. In the silvery light a dome reared its head that might have belonged to an Eastern mosque with a muezzin calling the faithful to prayers. Minarets glistered, remote and ethereal, and tall spires lifted themselves like arrows in flight. On the left lay low hills softly outlined against the pearly sky; hills of fairyland that might dissolve and disappear with the falling night; hills on the borderland of fantasy and old romance.

And as they watched, surprised out of themselves by this magic play of light, the sun's rim dipped below the skyline, a level lake of blood, and the fantastic city melted like a dream. The pearly haze was withdrawn like a net of gossamer, and the magic city had vanished at a touch. The familiar towers and spires of Sydney reappeared, silhouetted against the amber rim of night; the hills, robbed of their pearly glamour, huddled beneath a belt of leaden


  ― 243 ―
cloud; the harbour waters lay flat and grey like a sheet of polished metal; light clouds were pacing in from the sea.

They stared across the water, silent and thoughtful, touched for a moment with the glamour of a dream. The sound of a cornet, prolonged into a wail, reached them from the deck of a Manly steamer. At intervals the full strength of the band, cheerful and vulgar, was carried by a gust of wind to their ears.

“Oh, I would like to hear some music!” cried Clara. “Something slow and solemn, a dirge for the dying day.”

Jonah turned and looked at her curiously, surprised by the gush of emotion in her voice. He started to speak, and hesitated. Then the words came with a rush.

“I could give yer a tune meself, but I suppose yer'd poke borak.”

“Give me a tune? I never knew you could sing,” said Clara, in surprise.

“Sing!” said Jonah, in scorn. “I can beat any singin' w'en I'm in good nick.”

“Whatever do you mean?” said Clara. She was surprised to see that the habitual shrewd look had gone out of his eyes. He looked half ashamed and defiant.

“Yer remember w'en I first met yer in the shop I mentioned that I could do a bit with the mouth-organ?”

“The mouth-organ?” said Clara, smiling. “I thought only boys amused themselves with that.”

“No fear!” cried Jonah. “I 'eard a bloke at the ‘Tiv.’ play a fair treat. That's 'ow I come to git


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this instrument,” and he tapped something in his breast pocket. “Kramer's 'ad to send 'ome for it, an' I only got it this afternoon. I've bin dyin' to 'ave a go at it, but I always wait till I git the place to meself. It wouldn't do for the 'ands to see the boss playin' the mouth-organ.”

He took the instrument out of his pocket, and handed it to Clara with the pride of a fiddler showing his Strad. Clara looked carelessly at the flat row of tubes cased in nickel-silver.

“Exhibition concert organ with forty reeds,” said Jonah. Again Clara looked at the instrument with a slightly disdainful air, as an organist would look at a penny whistle.

“Well, play something,” she said with a smile.

Jonah breathed slowly into the reeds, up and down the scale, testing the compass of the instrument. It was full and rich, unlike any that she had heard in the streets. Presently he struck into a popular ballad from the music-hall, holding the organ to his mouth with the left hand. With his right he covered the pipes to control the volume of sound as a pianist uses the pedals. When he had finished, Clara smiled in encouragement, with a secret feeling that he was making himself ridiculous. She looked across the water, wishing he would put the thing away and stop this absurd exhibition. But Jonah had warmed up to his work. He was back in Cardigan Street again, when the Push marched through the streets with him in the lead, playing tunes that he had learned at the music-halls.

In five minutes Clara's uneasiness had vanished,


  ― 245 ―
and she was listening to the music with a dreamy languor quite foreign to her usual composure. Her mind was filled with the fantastic splendour of the sunset; the fresh salt air had acted like a drug; and the sounds breathed into the reeds made her nerves vibrate like strings. Strange, lawless thoughts floated in her mind. The world was meant for love, and passionate sadness, and breaking hearts that healed at the glance of an eye. And as her ear followed the tune, her eyes were drawn with an irresistible movement to the musician. She found him staring at her with a magnetic look in his eyes.

He was no longer ridiculous. The large head, wedged beneath the shoulders, the projecting hump, monstrous and inhuman, and the music breathed into the reeds set him apart as a sinister, uncanny being. She frowned in an effort to think what the strange figure reminded her of, and suddenly she remembered. It was the god Pan, the goat-footed lord of rivers and woods, sitting beside her, who blew into his pipes and stirred the blood of men and women to frenzies of joy and fear. There was fear and exultation in her heart. A pagan voluptuousness spread through her limbs. Jonah paused for a moment, and then broke into the pick of his repertory. And Clara listened, hypnotized by the sounds, her brain mechanically fitting the words to the tune:

Come to me, sweet Marie, sweet Marie, come to me!
Not because your face is fair, love, to see;
But your soul, so pure and sweet,
Makes my happiness complete,
Makes me falter at your feet, sweet Marie.




  ― 246 ―

The vulgar, insipid words rang as plainly in her ears as if a voice were singing them. Jonah stopped playing, and stared at her with a curious glitter in his eyes. She felt, in a dazed, dreamy fashion, that this was the hunchback's declaration of love. The hurdy-gurdy tune and the unsung words had acted like a spell. For a space of seconds she gazed with a fixed look at Jonah, waiting for him to move or speak. She seemed to be slipping down a precipice without the power or desire to resist. Then, like a fit of giddiness, the sensation passed. She stumbled to her feet and ran wildly down the rocky path to the wharf where the ferry-boat, glittering with electric lights, like a gigantic firefly, was waiting at the jetty.




  ― 247 ―

IX: Mrs. Partridge Minds the Shop

CHOOK caught the last tram home, and found Pinkey asleep in bed with a novelette in her hand. She had fallen asleep reading it. The noise of Chook's entry roused her, and she stared at him, uncertain of the hour. Then, seeing him fully dressed, she decided that it was four o'clock in the morning, and that he was trying to sneak off to Paddy's Market without her. She was awake in an instant, and her face flushed pink with anger as she jumped out of bed, indignant at being deprived of her share of the unpleasant trip to the markets. Three times a week she nerved herself for that heartbreaking journey in the raw morning air, resolved never to let Chook see her flinch from her duty. As she started to dress herself with feverish haste, Chook recovered enough from his astonishment to ask her where she was going.

“To Paddy's, of course,” she replied fiercely. “Yer sneaked off last week on yer own, an' cum 'ome so knocked out that yer couldn't eat yer breakfast.”

A cold shiver ran through Chook. Her mind was affected, and in a flash he saw his wife taken to the


  ― 248 ―
asylum and himself left desolate. Then he understood, and burst into a roar.

“Git into bed again, Liz,” he cried. “Ye're walkin' in yer sleep.”

“Wot's the time?” she asked, with a suspicious look.

“Five past twelve,” said Chook, reluctantly.

“An' ye're only just come 'ome! Wot d'ye mean by stoppin' out till this time of night?” she cried, turning on him furiously, but secretly relieved, like a patient who finds the dentist is out.

“The play was out late, an' we …” stammered Chook.

As he stammered, Pinkey caught sight of a rip in his sleeve, and looking at him intently, was horrified to see his lip cut and bleeding. She gave a cry of terror and burst into tears.

“Yer never went to no play; yer've bin fightin',” she sobbed.

“No, I ain't, fair dinkum,” cried Chook. “I'll tell yer 'ow I come by this, if yer wait a minute.”

“Yer never cut yer lip lookin' at the play; yer've gone back ter the Push, as Sarah always said yer would.”

“I'll screw Sarah's neck when I can spare the time,” said Chook, savagely.

Chook, the old-time larrikin, had turned out a model husband, but, for years after his marriage, Mrs. Partridge had taken a delight in prophesying that he would soon tire of Pinkey's apron-strings and return to the Push and the streets. And now, although Waxy Collins and Joe Crutch were in jail for sneak-thieving, their places taken by younger


  ― 249 ―
and more vicious scum, Pinkey thought instantly of the dread Push when Chook grew restive.

“No,” said Chook, deciding to cut it short, “I tore me coat an' cut me lip gittin' away from the Johns at Paddy Flynn's alley.”

Pinkey turned sick with fear. The two-up school was worse than the Push, and they were ruined.

“I knew it the moment I set eyes on yer. Yer've been bettin' again, an' lost all yer money. Yer've got nothing left for the markets, an' the landlord'll turn us out,” she cried, seeing herself already in the gutter.

“Yes, I lost a bit, but I pulled up, an' I'm a couple of dollars to the good,” said Chook, feeling in his pocket for some half-crowns.

“Well, give it to me,” said Pinkey, “an' I'll go straight termorrer and pay ten shillings on a machine.”

“Wot would yer 'ave said if I'd won ten or fifteen quid?” asked Chook.

“I should 'ave said 'Buy Jack Ryan's 'orse an' cart, an' never go near a two-up school again',” said Pinkey, thinking of the impossible.

“Well, I won the dollars, an' I'll do as yer say,” cried Chook emptying his pockets on the counterpane.

As Chook poured the heap of gold and silver on to the bed, Pinkey gasped, and turned deadly white. Chook thought she was going to faint.

“It's all right, Liz,” he cried. “I've 'ad a good win, an' we're set up fer life.”

He was busy sorting the gold and silver into heaps, first putting aside his stake, two pounds ten. There


  ― 250 ―
were fifteen pounds twelve shillings and sixpence left. Pinkey stared in amazement. It seemed incredible that so much money could belong to them. And suddenly she thought, with a pang of joy, that no longer would she need to nerve herself for the cruel journey to the markets in the morning. Chook would drive down in his own cart, and she would be waiting on his return with a good breakfast. They had gone up in the world like a rocket.

The marriage of Pinkey, three years ago, had affected Mrs. Partridge like the loss of a limb. For over two years she had been chained to the same house, in the same street, with the desire but not the power to move. Only once had she managed to change her quarters with the aid of William, and the result had been disastrous. For the first time in his life William had lost a day at Grimshaw's to move the furniture, and for six months he had brooded over the lost time. This last move had planted them in Botany Street, five minutes' walk from Chook's shop. At first Mrs. Partridge had fretted, finding little consolation in the new ham-and-beef shop on Botany Road; and then, little by little, she had become attached to the neighbourhood. She had been surprised to find that entertainment came to her door unsought, in the form of constant arrivals and departures among the neighbours. And each of them was the beginning or the end of a mystery, which she probed to the bottom with the aid of the postman, the baker, the butcher, and the tradesmen who were left lamenting with their bills unpaid. Never before in her wanderings had she got so completely in touch with her surroundings.




  ― 251 ―
But from habit she always talked of moving. She could never pass an empty house without going through it, sniffing the drains, and requesting the landlord to make certain improvements, with the mania of women who haunt the shops with empty purses, pricing expensive materials. Every week she announced to Chook and Pinkey that she had found the very house, if William would take a day off to move. But in her heart she had no desire to leave the neighbourhood. It was an agreeable and daily diversion for her to run up to the shop, and prophesy ruin and disaster to Chook and Pinkey for taking a shop that had beggared the last tenant, ignoring the fact that Jack Ryan had converted his profits into beer. Chook's rough tongue made her wince at times, but she refused to take offence for more than a day. She had taken a fancy to Chook the moment she had set eyes on him, and was sure Pinkey was responsible for his sudden bursts of temper. She thought to do him a service by dwelling on Pinkey's weak points, and Chook showed his gratitude by scowling. Pinkey, who had been a machinist in the factory, was no hand with a needle, and Mrs. Partridge commented on this in Chook's hearing.

“An' fancy 'er 'ardly able to sew on a button, which is very dangerous lyin' about on the floor, as children will eat anythin', not knowin' the consequences,” she cried.

Chook pointed out that there were no children in the house to eat stray buttons.

“An' thankful you ought to be for that,” she cried. “There's Mrs. Brown's baby expectin' to be waited


  ― 252 ―
on 'and an' foot, an' thinks nothin' of wakin' 'er up in the night, cryin' its heart out one minute, an' cooin' like a dove the next, though I don't 'old with keepin' birds in the 'ouse as makes an awful mess, an' always the fear of a nasty nip through the bars of the cage, which means a piece of rag tied round your finger.”

Here she stopped for breath, and Chook turned aside the torrent of words by offering her some vegetables, riddled with grubs, for the trouble of carrying them home. She considered herself one of Chook's best customers, having dealt off him since their first meeting. Every market-day she came to the shop, picked out everything that was damaged or bruised, and bought it at her own price. She often wished that Pinkey had married a grocer.

Chook had said nothing to her of his win at the two-up school, and she only heard of it at the last moment through a neighbour. She put on her hat, and just reached the shop in time to see Chook drive up to the door in his own horse and cart. Pinkey was standing there, radiant, her dreams come true, already feeling that their fortunes were made. Mrs. Partridge looked on with a choking sensation in her throat, desiring nothing for herself, but angry with Fortune for showering her gifts on others. Then she stepped up briskly, and cried out:

“I 'eard all about yer luck, an' I sez to myself, ‘it couldn't 'ave 'appened to a more deservin' young feller.’ You'll ride in yer carriage yet, mark my words.”

She came nearer and stared at the mare, anxious to


  ― 253 ―
find fault, but knowing nothing of the points of a horse. She decided to make friends with it, and rubbed its nose. The animal, giving her an affectionate look, furtively tried to bite her arm, and then threw back its head, expecting the rap on the nose that always followed this attempt. Mrs. Partridge trembled with fear and rage.

“Well, I never!” she cried. “The sly brute! Looked at me like a 'uman being, an' then tried to eat me, which I could never understand people preachin' about kindness to dumb animals, an' 'orses takin' a delight in runnin' over people in the street every day.”

“It's because they've got relations that makes 'em thankful animals are dumb,” said Chook.

“Meaning me?” cried Mrs. Partridge, smelling an insult.

“You?” said Chook, affecting surprise. “I niver mind yous talkin'. It goes in one ear an' out of the other.”

Mrs. Partridge bounced out of the shop in a rage, but next day she came back to tell Pinkey that she had found the very house in Surry Hills for a shilling a week less rent. She stayed long enough to frighten the life out of Pinkey by telling her that she had heard that Jack Ryan was well rid of the horse, because it had a habit of bolting and breaking the driver's neck. Chook found Pinkey trembling for his safety, and determined to put a stop to these annoyances. He disappeared for a whole day, and when Pinkey wanted to know where he had been, he told her to wait and see. They nearly quarrelled. But the next morning he gave her a surprise. After


  ― 254 ―
breakfast he announced that he was going to take her to the Druids' picnic in his own cart, and that Mrs. Partridge had consented to mind the shop in their absence.

When Chook asked Mrs. Partridge to mind the shop for the day, she jumped at the idea. She felt that she had a gift for business which she had wasted by not marrying the greengrocer; and now, with the shop to herself, she would show them how to deal with the customers, and find time in between to run her eye through Pinkey's boxes. She, too, would have a holiday after her own heart. She decided to wear her best skirt and blouse, to keep the customers in their place and remind them that she was independent of their favours. She found everything ready on her arrival. The price of every vegetable was freshly painted on the window by Chook in white letters, and there were five shillings in small change in the till. Lunch was set for her on the kitchen table, a sight to make the mouth water, for Chook, remembering the days of his courting, had ransacked the ham-and-beef shop for dainties — sheep's trotters, brawn, pig's cheek, ham-and-chicken sausage, and a bottle of mixed pickles. Nothing was wanting. As Chook drove off with Pinkey, she waved her hand to them, and then, surveying the street with the air of a proprietor, entered the shop and took possession.

They were going to Sir Joseph Banks's for the picnic; but, to Pinkey's surprise, the cart turned into Botany Street and pulled up in front of Sarah's cottage.

“Wotcher stoppin' 'ere for?” she inquired.




  ― 255 ―
“'Cause we're goin' ter git out,” said Chook, with a grin.

“Git out? Wot for? There's nobody at 'ome, Dad's at work.”

“I know; that's w'y I came,” said Chook, tying the reins to the seat. “Git down, Liz; yer've got a 'ard day in front of yer.”

“'Ard day? Wotcher mean?” cried Pinkey, suspiciously.

“We're goin' ter move Sarah's furniture to the new 'ouse she found in Surry Hills,” replied Chook.

“She never took no 'ouse,” said Pinkey.

“No, I took it yesterday in 'er name,” said Chook, grinning at Pinkey's perplexed frown. “I wanted ter give 'er a pleasant surprise fer 'er birthday.”

“Wot about the picnic?” exclaimed Pinkey, suddenly.

“There ain't no picnic,” said Chook. “It's next Monday; the date must 'ave slipped me mind.”

“An' yer mean ter move 'er furniture in without 'er knowin'?”

“That's the dart,” said Chook, with a vicious smile. “If Sarah's tongue don't git a change of air, I'll git three months fer murder. So 'urry up, Liz, an' put this apron over yer skirt.”

The impudence of Chook's plan took her breath away, but when he insisted that there was no other way of getting rid of Mrs. Partridge, she consented, with the feeling that she was taking part in a burglary. Chook took the key from under the flower-pot and went in. They found the place like a pigsty, for in the excitement of dressing for her day behind the counter, Sarah had wasted no time in


  ― 256 ―
making the bed or washing up, and Pinkey, trained under the watchful eye of Chook's mother, stood aghast. She declared that nothing could be done till that mess was cleared away, and tucked up her sleeves.

The appearance of the cart had roused the neighbours' curiosity, and Chook engaged them in conversation over the back fence. He explained that Mrs. Partridge had begged him to come down and move her furniture while she minded the shop. There was a general sigh of relief. Nothing had escaped her eye or tongue. Mrs. King, who was supposed to be temperance, did wonders with the bottle under her apron, but was caught. Then she found out that Mrs. Robinson's brother, who was supposed to be doing well in the country, was really doin' seven years. Chook refused half a dozen offers of help before Pinkey had finished washing up.

As Chook lacked the professional skill of Jimmy the van-man, Pinkey was obliged to make two loads of the furniture; but by twelve o'clock the last stick was on the cart, and Pinkey, sitting beside her husband on a plank, carried the kerosene lamp in her lap to prevent breakage. By sunset everything was in its place, and Chook and Pinkey, aching in every joint, locked the door and drove home.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Partridge had spent a pleasant day conducting Chook's business on new lines. She had always suspected that she had a gift for business, and here was an opportunity to prove it. The first customer was a child, sent for three penn'orth of potatoes. As children are naturally careless, Mrs. Partridge saw here an excellent opportunity for


  ― 257 ―
weeding out the stock, and went to a lot of trouble in picking out the small and damaged tubers, reserving the best for customers who came to choose for themselves. Five minutes later she was exchanging them for the largest in the sack under the direction of an infuriated mother. This flustered her slightly, and when Mrs. Green arrived, complaining of rheumatic twinges in her leg, she decided to try Pinkey's sympathetic manner.

“Ah, if anybody knows what rheumatism is, I do,” she cried. “For years I suffered cruelly, an' then I was persuaded to carry a new pertater in me pocket, an' I've never 'ad ache or pain since; though gettin' cured, to my mind, depends on the sort of life you've led.”

Mrs. Green, a woman with a past, flushed heavily.

“'Oo are yer slingin' off at?” she cried. “You and yer new pertater. I'd smack yer face for two pins,” and she walked out of the shop.

This made Mrs. Partridge careful, and she served the next customers in an amazing silence. Then she dined royally on the pick of the ham-and-beef shop, and settled down for the afternoon. But she recovered her tongue when Mrs. Paterson wanted some lettuce for a salad.

“Which I could never understand people eatin' salads, as I shall always consider bad for the stomach, an' descendin' to the lower animals,” she cried. “Nothing could make me believe I was meant to eat vegetables raw when I can 'ave them boiled an' strained for 'alf an 'our.”

In her eagerness to convert Mrs. Paterson to her views, she forgot to charge for the lettuce. When


  ― 258 ―
Chook and Pinkey arrived, she had partially destroyed the business, and was regretting that she had been too delicate to marry the greengrocer. She showed Chook the till bulging with copper and silver.

“Yer've done us proud,” cried Chook, staring.

Mrs. Partridge sorted out ten shillings from the heap.

“That's Mrs. Robins's account,” she remarked.

“Wot made 'er pay?” inquired Pinkey, suspiciously. “Yer didn't go an' ask 'er for it, did yer?”

“Not likely,” said Mrs. Partridge; “but when she complained of the peas bein' eighteenpence a peck, I pointed out that if she considered nothing too dear for 'er back, she should consider nothing too dear for 'er stomach, an' she ran 'ome to fetch this money an' nearly threw it in my face.”

“Me best customer,” cried Pinkey in dismay. “She pays at the end of the month like clockwork.”

Mrs. Partridge stared at the heap of silver, and changed the subject.

“It 'ud give me the creeps to sleep in the 'ouse with all that money,” she remarked, “after readin' in the paper as 'ow burglars are passionate fond of silver, an' 'avin' no reg'lar 'ours for callin', like to drop in when least expected.” She noted with satisfaction that Pinkey changed colour, and shook the creases out of her skirt. “Well, I must be goin',” she added. “I never like to keep William waitin' for 'is tea.”

A cold wave swept over Chook. He had clean forgotten William, who would go home to Botany Street and find an empty house. Pinkey dived into the bedroom, and left Chook to face it out.




  ― 259 ―
“'Ere's yer key,” he said helplessly, to make a beginning.

“This is my key,” said Mrs. Partridge, feeling in her pocket, “an' the other one is under the flower-pot for William, if I'm out. I dunno what you mean.”

“I mean this is the key of yer new 'ouse in Surry Hills,” said Chook, fumbling hopelessly with the piece of iron.

“You've bin drinkin', an' the beer's gone to yer 'ead,” said Mrs. Partridge, unwilling to take offence.

“I tell yer I'm as dry as a bone,” cried Chook, losing patience.

“Yer think yer live in Botany Street, but yer don't. Yer live in Foveaux Street, an' this is the key of the 'ouse.”

“I think I live in Botany Street, but I've moved to Foveaux Street,” repeated Mrs. Partridge, but the words conveyed no meaning to her mind.

She came closer to Chook. He looked and smelt sober, and suddenly a horrid suspicion ran through her mind that her brain was softening. She was older than they thought, for she had taken five years off her age when she had married William. In an agony of fear she searched her memory for the events of the past month, trying to recall any symptom of illness that should have warned her. She could remember nothing, and turned to Chook with a wild fear in her eyes. Something must be wrong with him.

“Can you understand what you're sayin'?” she asked.

“Yes,” said Chook, anxious to get it over. “Yer lived in Botany Street this morning, but yer moved


  ― 260 ―
to-day, an' now yer live in Foveaux Street in the 'ouse yer picked on Monday.”

“Do you expect me to believe that?” cried Mrs. Partridge.

“No,” said Chook; “but yer will w'en yer go 'ome an' find your 'ouse empty.”

“An' who moved me?”

“Me an' Liz,” said Chook. “The picnic wasn't till next week, an' Liz an' me thought we'd give yer a surprise.”

For the first time in her life Mrs. Partridge was speechless. She saw that she had been tricked shamefully. They had ransacked her house, and laid bare all the secrets of her little luxuries. She quailed as she remembered what they had found in the cupboard and the bottom drawer of the wardrobe. Never again could she face Chook and Pinkey, knowing what they did, and take her pickings of the shop. Suddenly she recovered her tongue, and turned on Chook, transformed with rage.

“William will break every bone in yer body when 'e 'ears what you've done,”;she cried, “mark my words. An' in case I never see yer again, let me tell yer somethin' that's been on my mind ever since I first met you. If that ginger-headed cat 'idin' behind the bedroom door 'adn't married yer, nobody else would, for you're that ugly it 'ud pay yer to grow whiskers an' 'ide yer face.”

And with this parting shot she marched out of the shop and disappeared in the darkness.




  ― 261 ―

X: Dad Weeps on a Tombstone

THE scene at Cremorne Point had suddenly reminded Clara that she was playing with fire. In the beginning she had consented to these meetings to humour the parent of her best pupil, and gradually she had drifted into an intimacy with Jonah without the courage to end it. To her fastidious taste his physical deformity and the flavour of Cardigan Street that still clung about his speech and manners put him out of court as a possible lover; but it had gratified her pride to discover that he was in love with her, and as he never expressed himself more plainly than by furtive glances and sudden inflections in his voice, she felt sure of her power to keep him at a distance.

These outings, indeed, had nearly fallen through, when Jonah, fumbling for words and afraid to say what was on his mind, had touched on a detail of his business. To his surprise Clara caught fire like straw, fascinated at being shown the inner workings of the “Silver Shoe”. And from that time a curious attitude had grown between them. Jonah talked of his business, and stared at Clara as she listened, forgetful of him, her mind absorbed in details of


  ― 262 ―
profit and loss. She found the position easy to maintain, for Jonah, catching at straws, demanded no positive encouragement. A chance word or look from her was rich matter for a week's thought, twisted and turned in his mind till it meant all he desired.

She saw clearly and coldly that Jonah had placed her on a pedestal, and she determined never to step down of her own accord, recognizing with the instinct for business that had surprised Jonah that she would lose more than she would gain. And yet the sudden glimpse of passion in Jonah had whetted her appetite for more. It had recalled the days of her engagement with a singular bitterness and pleasure. She thought with a hateful persistence of her first love, the man who had accustomed her to admiration and then shuffled out of the engagement, forced by the attitude of his relatives to her father. But for weeks after the scene at Cremorne Jonah had retired within himself terrified lest he should alarm her and put an end to their outings. So far she had timed their meetings for the daylight out of prudence, but, pricked on by curiosity, she had begun to dally on the return journey, desiring and fearing some token of his adoration.

Meanwhile Jonah swung like a pendulum between hope and despair. He dimly suspected that a bolder man would have had his declaration out and done with long ago, and he waited for a favourable opportunity; but it came and went, and left him speechless. He had accepted Ada as the typical woman, and now found himself as much at sea as if he had discovered a new species, for he never suspected that


  ― 263 ―
any other woman had it in her power, given a favourable opportunity, to lead him to this new world of sensation. Women had always been shy of him, and with his abnormal shape and his absorption in business it had been easy for him to miss what lay beneath the surface. But for the accident of his meeting with Clara, his temperament would have carried him through life, unconscious of love from his own experience and regarding it as a fable of women and poets.

Jonah never spent money willingly, except where Ray was concerned, and Clara in their first meetings had been surprised and chilled by his anxiety to get the value of his money. He had informed her, bluntly, that money was not made by spending it; but for some months he had been surprised by a desire to spend his money to adorn and beautify this woman. Clara, however, maintaining her independence with a wary eye, had refused to take presents from him. He had become more civilized and more human under the weight of his generous emotions, but they could find no outlet.

It was the affair of Hans Paasch that opened his eye to the power for good that she exercised over him. When his shop had closed for want of customers, Paasch found that his failing eyesight and methodical slowness barred him from competing with younger and quicker men, and, his mind weakened and bewildered by disaster, he had turned for help to his first and only love, the violin. For some years he had taught a few pupils who were too poor to pay the fees of the professional teachers, and, persuaded that pupils would flock to him if he gave his whole


  ― 264 ―
time to it he took a room and set up as a teacher. In six months he had to choose between starvation by inches or playing dance music in Bob Fenner's hall for fifteen shillings a week. For a while he endured this, playing popular airs that he hated and despised for the larrikins whom he hated and feared, a nightly butt and target for their coarse jests. Then he preferred starvation, and found himself in the gutter with the clothes he stood up in and his fiddle. He had joined the army of mendicant musicians, who scrape a tune in front of hotels and shops, living on charity thinly veiled.

They had passed him one night on their return from Mosman, playing in front of a public-house to an audience of three loafers. The streets had soon dragged him to their level. Unkempt and half starved, he wore the look of the vagrant who sleeps in his clothes for want of bedding. Grown childish in his distress, he had forgotten his lifelong habits of neatness and precision, going to pieces like a man who takes to drink.

Clara, who knew his history, was horrified at the sight. She thought he lived comfortably on a crust of bread by giving lessons. Jonah turned sulky when she reproached him.

“I don't see 'ow I'm ter blame for this any more'n if 'e'd come to the gutter through drink. It was a fair go on the Road, an' if I beat 'im an' the others, it was because I was a better man at the game. I spent nearly all my money in that little shanty where I started, an' 'im an' the others looked on an' 'oped I'd starve. Yer talk about me bein' cruel an' callous. It's the game that's cruel, not me. I


  ― 265 ―
knocked 'im out all right, but wot 'ud be the use of knockin' 'im down with one 'and an' pickin' 'im up with the other?”

“You say yourself that he took you off the streets, and gave you a living.”

“So 'e did, but 'e got 'is money's worth out of me. I did the work of a man, an' saved 'im pounds for years. Yer wouldn't 'ave such a sentimental way of lookin' at things if yer'd been a steet-arab, sellin' newspapers, an' no one ter make it 'is business whether yer lived or starved.”

“But surely you can't see him in that condition without feeling sorry for him?”

“Oh yes, I can; 'e's no friend of mine. 'E told everybody on the Road that I went shares with the Devil,” said Jonah, with an uneasy grin. “'Ere, I'll show yer wot 'e thinks of me.”

He felt in his pocket for a coin, and crossed the street. Paasch had finished his piece, and putting his fiddle under his arm, turned to the loafers with a beseeching air. They looked the other way and discussed the weather. Then Jonah stepped up to him and thrust the coin into his hand. Paasch, feeling something unaccustomed in his fingers, held it up to the light. It was a sovereign, and he blinked in wonder at the coin then at the giver, convinced that it was a trick. Then he recognized Jonah, and a look of passionate fear and anger convulsed his features. He threw down the coin as if it had burnt him, crying:

“No, I vill not take your cursed moneys. Give me back mine shop and mine business that you stole from me. You are a rich man and ride in your


  ― 266 ―
carriage, and I am the beggar, but I would not change with you. The great gods shall mock at you. Money you shall have in plenty while I starve, but never your heart's desire, for like a dog did you bite the hand that fed you.”

Suddenly his utterance was choked by a violent fit of coughing, and he stared at Jonah, crazed with hate and prophetic fury. A crowd began to gather, and Jonah, afraid of being recognized, walked rapidly away.

“Now yer can see fer yerself,” he cried, sullenly.

“Yes, I see,” said Clara, strangely excited; “and I think you would be as cruel with a woman as you are with a man.”

“I've given yer no cause ter say that,” protested Jonah.

“Perhaps not,” said Clara; “but that man won't last through the winter unless he's cared for. And if he dies, his blood will be on your head, and your luck will turn. His crazy talk made me shiver. Promise me to do something for him.”

“Ye're talkin' like a novelette,” said Jonah, roughly.

But Paasch's words had struck a superstitious chord in Jonah, and he went out of his way to find a plan for relieving the old man without showing his hand. He consulted his solicitors, and then an advertisement in the morning papers offered a reward to anyone giving the whereabouts of Hans Paasch, who left Hassloch in Bavaria in 1860, and who would hear of something to his advantage by calling on Harris & Harris, solicitors. A month later Jonah held a receipt for twelve pounds ten, signed by Hans


  ― 267 ―
Paasch, the first instalment of an annuity of fifty pounds a year miraculously left him by a distant cousin in Germany.

He showed this to Clara while they were crossing in the boat to Mosman. She listened to him in silence. Then a flush coloured her cheeks.

“You'll never regret that,” she said; “it's the best day's work you ever did.”

“I 'ope I'll never regret anythin' that gives you pleasure,” said Jonah, feeling very noble and generous, and surprised at the ease with which he turned a compliment.

They had the Point to themselves, as usual, and Clara went to the edge of the rocks to see what ships had come and gone during the week, trying to identify one that she had read about in the papers. Jonah watched her in silence, marking every detail of her tall figure with a curious sense of possession that years of intimacy had never given him with Ada. And yet she kept him at a distance with a skill that exasperated him and provoked his admiration. One day when he had held her hand a moment too long, she had withdrawn it with an explanation that sounded like an apology. She explained that from a child she had been unable to endure the touch of another person; that she always preferred to walk rather than ride in a crowded bus or tram because bodily contact with others set her nerves on edge. It was a nervous affection, she explained, inherited from her mother. Jonah had his own opinion of this malady, but he admitted to himself that she would never enter a crowd or a crush.

The result of her pleading for Paasch had put her


  ― 268 ―
in a high good humour. It was the first certain proof of her power over Jonah, and she chattered gaily. She had risen in her own esteem. But presently, to her surprise, Jonah took some papers from his pocket and frowned over them.

“It's very impolite to read in other people's company,” she remarked, with a sudden coolness.

“I beg yer pardon,” said Jonah, starting suddenly, as if a whip had touched him. She never failed to reprove him for any lapse in manners, and Jonah winced without resentment.

“I thought this might interest yer,” he continued. “I'm puttin' Steel in as manager at last, an' this is the agreement.”

“Who advised you to do that?” said Clara, with an angry flush.

“Well, Johnson's been complainin' of overwork fer some time, but Miss Giltinan decided me. She's very keen on me openin' up branches in the suburbs.”

“You place great weight on Miss Giltinan's opinion,” said Clara, jealously.

“Ter tell the truth, I do,” said Jonah. “Next ter yerself, she's got the best 'ead fer business of any woman I know.”

“I don't agree with it at all,” said Clara. “You're the brains of the “Silver Shoe”, and another man's ideas will clash with yours.”

“No fear!” said Jonah. “I've got 'im tied down in black and white by my solicitors.”

Clara ran her eye over the typewritten document, reading some of the items aloud.

“‘Turn over the stock three times a year’! What


  ― 269 ―
does that mean?” And she listened while Jonah explained, the position of pupil and tutor suddenly reversed.

“‘Ten and a half per cent bonus, in addition to his salary, if he shows an increase on last year's sales.’”

“‘Net profits on the departments not to exceed twenty-five per cent.,’” read Clara in amazement. “Why, I should have thought the more profit he made, the better for you.”

“No fear,” said Jonah, with a grin; “I can't 'ave a man puttin' up the price of the Silver Shoe with his eye on his bonus.”

Then a long discussion followed that lasted till nightfall. As the night promised to be fine, Jonah persuaded her to take tea at a dilapidated refreshment-room, halfway to the jetty, and they continued the discussion over cups of discoloured water and stale cakes. When they reached the Point again the moon was rising clear in the sky, and they sat and watched in silence the gradual illumination of the harbour. The wind had dropped, and tiny ripples alone broke the surface of the water. On the opposite shore the beaches lay obscured in the faint light of the moon, growing momently stronger, the land and water melted and confounded together in the grey light. The lesser stars fled at the slow approach of the moon, and in an hour she floated alone in the sky, save for the larger planets, flooding the deep abysses of the night with a gleam of silver, tender and caressing, that softened the angles and blotted details in brooding shadows.

Overhead curved the arch of night, a deep, flawless


  ― 270 ―
blue with velvety depths, pale and diluted with light as it touched the skyline. On the right, in the farther distance, Circular Quay flashed with the gleam of electric arcs, each contracted into a star of four points. And they glittered on the waterline like clustered gems without visible setting. A fainter glow marked the packed suburbs of the east; and then the lamps, flung like jewels in the night, picked out the line of shore to Rose Bay and the Heads.

Ferry-boats were crossing the harbour, jewelled and glittering with electric bulbs, moving in the distance without visible effort with the motion of swans, the throb of engines and the swirl of water lost in the distance. It was a symphony in light, each detached gleam on the sombre shore hanging

Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear.

Between the moon and the eye the water lay like a sheet of frosted glass; elsewhere the water rippled without life or colour, treacherous and menacing in the night.

Jonah turned and looked at the woman beside him. They were alone on the rocky headland, the city and the world of men seemed remote and unreal, cut off by the silvery light and the brooding shadows. It dawned slowly on him that his relations with this woman were independent of time and space. Of all things visible, it was she alone that mattered. Often enough he had missed his cue, but now, as if answering a question, he began speaking softly, as if he were talking to himself:




  ― 271 ―
“Clara! — Clara Grimes! — Clara! I've wanted ter say that out aloud fer months, but I've never found the place ter say it in. It sounds quite natural 'ere. Yer know that I love yer — I've seen it in yer face, but yer don't know that you're the first woman I ever wanted. No, yer needn't run away. I'm afraid ter touch yer, an' yer know it. Yer thought because I was married that I knew all about women. Why, I didn't know what women were made for till I met you. I thought w'en I 'ad the shop an' my boy that I had everythin' I wanted, but the old woman was right. There's a lot more in this world than I ever dreamt of. Seein' you opened my eyes. An' now I want yer altogether. I want ter see yer face every 'our of the day, an' tell yer whatever comes into my mind. I spend 'ours talkin' to yer w'en I'm by myself.

“It's only my right,” he went on, with increased energy. “I'm a man in spite of my shape, an' I only ask fer what I'm entitled to. I can see that other men 'ave been gittin' these things without me knowin' it. I used ter grin at Chook, but I was the fool. I had everythin' that I could see that was worth 'avin', an' somehow I wasn't satisfied. I never could see much in this life. I often wondered what it was all about. But now I understand. What's this for,” and he indicated the dreamy peaceful scene with a sweep of his hand, “if it only leaves yer starin' and wonderin'? I know now. It's ter make me think about yer an' want yer. Well, yer've made a man of me, an' it's up ter yous ter make the best of me.” He broke off with a short laugh. “P'raps this sound funny ter you. I've 'eard old women at the Salvos'


  ― 272 ―
meetings talk like this, tellin' of the wonderful things they found out w'en they got converted.”

Clara had listened in silence, with an intent, curious expression on her face. Jonah's words were like balm to her pride, lacerated three years ago by her broken engagement. And she listened, immensely pleased and a little afraid, like a mischievous child that has set fire to the curtains. Jonah's face was turned to her, and as she looked at him her curiosity was changed to awe at the sight of passion on fire. She thought of the crazy fiddler's words, and felt in herself an infinite sadness, for she knew that Jonah would never gain his heart's desire.

“I've 'ad my say,” he continued, “an' now I'll talk sense. You're a grown woman, an' yer know what all this means. I can give yer anythin' yer like: a house an' servants; everythin' yer want. What do yer say?”

Clara had gone white to the lips. It had come at last, and the “Silver Shoe” was within her reach, but the gift was incomplete. She must decline it, and take her chances for the future.

“Not quite everything, Joe,” she replied gently, afraid of wounding him. “Ever since I was a girl I've had something to be ashamed of through no fault of my own — my drunken father, the street we live in, our genteel poverty; and now, when I seem to have missed all my chances, you come along, and offer me everything I want with the main thing left out. Oh, I know those cottages where the husband is a stranger, and the neighbours watch them behind the curtains, and pump the servant over the back fence! I'm too proud for that sort of thing.


  ― 273 ―
Oh, what a rotten world this is!” she cried passionately, and burst into a storm of weeping. It was the most natural action of her life.

Jonah sat and stared at the lights of the Quay, dismayed by her tears but relieved in his mind. He had spoken at last; already he was framing fresh arguments to persuade her. Presently she dried her eyes and looked at him with the ghost of a smile. Then began a discussion which threatened to last all night, neither of them giving way from the position they had taken up, neither yielding an inch to the other's entreaties. Suddenly Jonah looked at his watch with an exclamation. It was nearly ten. In the heat of argument they had forgotten the lapse of time. They scrambled over boulders and through the lantana bushes down to the path, and just caught the boat.

When they reached the Quay they were surprised again by the splendour of the night. The moon, just past the full, flooded the streets with white light that left deep shadows between the buildings like a charcoal drawing. They took a tram to the Haymarket, as they were afraid of being recognized in the Waterloo cars, and reached Regent Street after eleven. The hotels had disgorged their customers, who were talking loudly in groups on the footpath or lurching homeward with uneven steps. Jonah was explaining that he must see Clara all the way home on account of the lateness of the hour, when he was astonished to hear someone sobbing in the monumental mason's yard as if his heart would break. He turned and looked. The headstones and white marble crosses stood in rows with a faint resemblance to a graveyard;


  ― 274 ―
the moonlight fell clear and cold on these monuments awaiting a purchaser. Some, already sold, were lettered in black with the name of the departed. Jonah and Clara stared, puzzled by the noise, when they saw an old man in the rear of the yard in a top hat and a frock coat, clinging to a marble cross. He lurched round, and instantly Clara, with a gasp of amazement and shame, recognized her father.

She moved into the shadows of a house, humiliated to her soul by this exhibition; but Jonah laughed, in spite of himself, at the figure cut by Dad among the ready-made monuments. As he laughed, Dad caught sight of him, and clinging to a marble angel with one arm for support, beckoned wildly with the other.

“Come here — come here,” he cried between his sobs. “I'm all alone with the dead, and nobody to shed a tear 'cep' meself. Shame on you, shame on you,” he cried, raising his voice in bitter grief, “to pass the poor fellows in their graves without sheddin' tear!”

He stopped and stared with drunken gravity at the name on the nearest tombstone, trying to read the words which danced before his eyes in the clear light. Jonah saw them plainly.

SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF

SARAH JAMES,

Aged Eighty-five.

A fresh burst of grief announced that Dad had deciphered the lettering.

“Sam!” he cried bitterly. “Me old fren' Sam! To


  ― 275 ―
think of bringing him here without letting me know! The besh fren' I ever had.”

Here sobs choked his utterance. He stooped and examined the shining marble slab again, lurching from one side to the other with incessant motion.

“An' not a flowersh onsh grave!” he cried. “Sam was awf'ly fond flowersh.”

“Get away 'ome, or the Johns'll pinch yer,” said Jonah.

Dad stopped and stared at him with a glimmering of reason in his fuddled brain.

“I know yoush,” he cried, with a cunning leer. “An' I know your fren' there. She isn't yer missis. She never is, y' know. Naughty boy!” he cried, wagging his finger at Jonah; “but I wont split on pal.”

That reminded him of the deceased Sam, and he turned again to the monument.

“Goo'bye, Sam,” he cried suddenly, under the impression that he had been to a funeral. “I've paid me respecks to an ol' fren', an' now we'll both sleep in peace.”

“Come away and leave him,” whispered Clara, trembling with disgust and mortification.

“No fear!” said Jonah. “The Johns down 'ere don't know 'im, an' they'll lumber 'im. You walk on ahead, an' I'll steer 'im 'ome.”

He looked round; there was not a cab to be seen.

He led Dad out of the stonemason's yard with difficulty, as he wanted to wait for the mourning coaches. Then, opposite the mortuary, he remembered his little present for the Duchess, and insisted on going back.




  ― 276 ―
“Wheresh my lil' present for Duchess?” he wailed. “Can't go 'ome without lil' present.”

Jonah was in despair. At last he rolled his handkerchief into a ball and thrust it into Dad's hand.

Then Dad, relieved and happy, cast Jonah off, and stood for a moment like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Jonah watched anxiously, expecting him to fall, but all at once, with a forward lurch Dad broke into a run, safe on his feet as a spinning top. Jonah had forgotten Dad's run, famous throughout all Waterloo, Redfern, and Alexandria.




  ― 277 ―

XI: A Fatal Accident

AS Clara crossed the tunnel at Cleveland Street, she found that she had a few minutes to spare, and stopped to admire the Silver Shoe from the opposite footpath. Triumphant and colossal, treading the air securely above the shop, the glittering shoe dominated the street with the insolence of success. More than once it had figured in her dreams, endowed with the fantastic powers of Aaron's rod, swallowing its rivals at a gulp or slowly crushing the life out of the bruised limbs.

Her eye travelled to the shop below, with its huge plate-glass windows framed in brass, packed with boots set at every angle to catch the eye. The array of shining brass rods and glass stands, the gaudy ticket on each pair of boots with the shillings marked in enormous red figures and the pence faintly outlined beside them, pleased her eye like a picture. To-day the silver lettering was covered with narrow posters announcing that Jonah's red-letter sale was to begin to-morrow. And as she stared at this huge machine for coining money, she remembered, with a sudden disdain, her home with its atmosphere of decay and genteel poverty. She


  ― 278 ―
was conscious of some change in herself. The slight sense of physical repugnance to the hunchback had vanished since his declaration. He and his shop stood for power and success. What else mattered?

Her spirits drooped suddenly as she remembered the obstacle that lay between her and the pride of openly sharing the triumphs of the Silver Shoe as she already shared its secrets. She thought with dismay of the furtive meetings drawn out for years without hope of relief unless the impossible happened. A watched pot never boils, and Ada was a young woman.

She crossed the street and entered the shop, her eye scouting for Jonah as she walked to the foot of the stairs, for since the appointment of a manager, Jonah had found time to slip up to the room after the lesson to ask her to play for him, on the plea that the piano was spoiling for want of use. And he waited impatiently for these stolen moments, with a secret desire to see her beneath his roof in a domestic setting that gave him a keener sense of intimacy than the swish of waters and wide spaces of sea and sky. But to-day she looked in vain, and Miss Giltinan, seeing the swift look of inquiry, stepped up to her.

“Mr Jones was called away suddenly over some arrangements for our sale that opens to-morrow. He left word with me that he'd be back as soon as possible,” she said.

Clara thanked her, and flushed slightly. It seemed as if Jonah were excusing himself in public for missing an appointment. As she went up the stairs one shopman winked at the other and came across with a pair of hobnailed boots in his hand.




  ― 279 ―
“This'll never do,” he whispered, “the boss missin' his lesson. He'll get behind in his practice.”

“Wotcher givin' us?” replied the other. “The boss don't take lessons; it's the kid.”

“Of course he don't,” said the other with a leer. “He learns a lot here by lookin' on, an' she tells him the rest at Mosman in the pale moonlight. If I won a sweep, I'd take a few lessons meself an' cut him out.”

He became aware that Miss Giltinan was standing behind him, and raised his voice.

“I was tellin' Harris that the price of these bluchers ought to be marked down; they're beginning to sweat,” he explained, turning to Miss Giltinan and showing her some small spots like treacle on the uppers.

“Mr Jones doesn't pay you good money to talk behind his back; and if you take the trouble to look at the tag, you'll see those boots have already been marked down,” she replied indignantly.

The shopman slinked away without a word. Miss Giltinan was annoyed. It was not the first time that she had heard these scandalous rumours, for the shop was alive with whispers, some professing to know every detail of the meetings between Jonah and the music-teacher, naming to a minute the boat they caught on their return from Mosman. Jonah had contrived to avoid the faces that were familiar to him, but he had forgotten that he must be seen and recognized by people unknown to him. Miss Giltinan's clear and candid mind rejected these rumours for lying inventions, incapable of belief that her idol, Jonah, would carry on with any woman.


  ― 280 ―
They talked about him going upstairs to hear the piano. What was more natural when he couldn't play it himself? And she dismissed the matter from her mind and went about her business.

Clara gave Ray his lesson, listening between whiles for a rapid step from below, but none came. She decided to go, and picked up her gloves. But as she passed the bedroom door on the landing, a voice that she recognized for Ada's called out “Is that you, Miss Grimes?”

“Yes,” said Clara, and paused.

The voice sounded faint and thin, like that of a sick woman.

“'Ow is it y'ain't playin' anythin' to-day?” she continued.

“Mr Jones is out,” replied Clara, annoyed by this conversation through the crack of a door, and anxious to get away.

“Oh, is 'e?” said Ada, with an increase of energy in her voice. “I wish yer'd come in fer a minit, if ye're not in a 'urry.”

Clara pushed the door open, and went in. It was her first sight of the bedroom, and she recoiled in dismay. The place was like a pigsty. Ada was lying on the bed, still tossed and disordered from last night, in a dirty dressing-gown. A basin of soapy water stood on the washstand, and the carpeted floor was littered with clothes, a pile of penny novelettes, and a collection of odds and ends on their way to the rag-bag. In spite of the huge bedroom suite with its streaked and speckled mirrors, the room seemed half furnished.

For a moment Clara was puzzled, and then her


  ― 281 ―
quick, feminine eye noted a complete absence of the common knick-knacks and trifles that indicate the refinement or vulgarity of the owner. She remembered that Jonah had told her that Ada pawned everything she could lay hands on since he stopped her allowance. But she was more surprised at the change in Ada herself. Months ago Ada had begun to avoid her, ashamed of her slovenly looks, and now Clara scarcely recognized her. Her eyes were sunken, her cheeks had fallen in, and a bluish pallor gave her the look of one recovering from a long illness. The room had not been aired, and the accumulated odours of the night turned Clara sick. She was thinking of some excuse to get away when Ada began to speak with a curious whine, quite unlike her old manner.

“I'm ashamed ter ask yer in, Miss Grimes, the room's in such a state; but I've been very ill, with no one ter talk to fer days past. Not that I'm ter blame. I 'ope it's niver your lot to 'ave a 'usband with thousan's in the bank, an' too mean ter keep a servant. 'Ere am I from mornin' ter night, slavin' an' drudgin', an' me with a leg that bad I can 'ardly stand on it. I'll just show yer wot state I'm in. It's breakin' out all over. Me blood's that bad fer want of proper food an' nourishment.” She began to unfasten a dirty bandage below her knee. Clara turned her head in disgust. The flesh was covered with ulcerated sores.

“I don't know 'ow you find 'im, Miss Grimes,” she continued, her voice rising in anger, “but if yer believe me, a meaner man niver walked the earth. I've 'ad ter pawn the things in this very room ter pay the baker an' the grocer. That's 'ow 'e makes


  ― 282 ―
'is money. Starvin' 'is own wife ter squeeze a few shillin's for 'is bankin' account. 'E knows I can't go outside the door, 'cause I've got nuthin' ter put on; but 'e takes jolly good care ter go down town an' live on the fat of the land.”

From the next room came the fitful, awkward sounds of a five-finger exercise from Ray. Clara listened with silent contempt to this torrent of abuse. She knew that it was false; that the more Jonah gave her, the more she spent on drink. And as she looked at Ada's face, ravaged by alcohol, a stealthy thought crept into her mind that set her heart beating. Suddenly Ada's anger dropped like a spent fire.

“Did yer say Mr Jones was busy in the shop?” she inquired, feebly.

“No,” said Clara, “I understand that he went down town on important business, and won't be back till late.”

“Thank yer,” said Ada, with a curious glitter in her eyes. “Would yer mind callin' Ray in? I want ter send 'im on a message to the grocer's.”

Clara went into the next room and sent Ray to his mother, stopping for a minute to shut the keyboard and put the music straight. After every lesson she was accustomed to examine the piano as if it were her own property. When she entered the bedroom again, Ada was whispering rapidly to Ray. She looked up as Clara entered, and gave him some money in a piece of paper.

“An' tell 'im I'll send the rest to-morrer,” she added aloud. Ray went down the back stairs, swinging an empty


  ― 283 ―
millet-bag in his hand. For another five minutes Clara remained standing, to show that she was anxious to get away, while Ada abused her husband, giving detailed accounts of his meanness and neglect. Suddenly her mood changed.

“I'm afraid I mustn't keep yer any longer, Miss Grimes,” she said abruptly; “an' thank yer fer lookin' in ter see 'ow I was.”

Clara, surprised and relieved at the note of dismissal in her voice, took her leave.

She went down the winding staircase at the rear of the shop, opposite the cashier's desk. The pungent odour of leather was delightful in her nostrils after the stale smell of the room above, and she halted at the turn of the landing to admire the huge shop, glittering with varnish, mirrors, and brass rods. Then she looked round for Jonah, but he was nowhere to be seen.

The sight of Ada, ravaged by alcohol, had filled her with strange thoughts, and she walked up Regent Street, comparing Ada with her own father, who seemed to thrive on beer. There must be some difference in their constitutions, for Ada was clearly going to pieces, and …the thought entered her mind again that quickened her pulse. She had never thought of that! She was passing the “Angel” with its huge white globes and glittering mirrors that reflected the sun's rays, when she caught sight of Ray coming out of the side door, swinging an empty millet-bag in his hand. A sudden light flashed on her mind. Ada's invitation into the bedroom, the inquiry about Jonah, and her sudden dismissal all meant this.




  ― 284 ―
“Did you get what your mother wanted?” she asked the child, with a thumping sensation in her heart.

“No,” said Ray carelessly; “the man wouldn't give me the medicine. He told me to go home and fetch the rest of the money.”

“How much more do you want?” asked Clara, in a curious tone.

“Eighteen pence,” said Ray, showing two half-crowns in his hand.

Clara hesitated, with parched lips. She remembered Ada's face, ravaged by brandy. She was a physical wreck, and six months ago …perhaps another bottle …

The thought grazed her mind with a stealthy, horrible suggestion. She felt in her purse with trembling fingers, and found a shilling and a sixpence.

“Go and get your mother's medicine,” she whispered, putting the money into Ray's hand; “but don't tell her that you met me, or she may scold you.”

Ray turned in at the side door, and Clara, white to the lips, hurried round the corner.

It took Ray half an hour to cover the short distance between the Angel and the Silver Shoe, with a bottle of brandy swinging carelessly in the millet-bag. Cassidy himself, all smiles, had carefully wrapped it in paper. Ray had promised to hurry home with the medicine for his mother, but, as usual, the shop windows were irresistible. Some of his early trips to the “Angel” had taken half a day.

Meanwhile Ada lay on the bed in an agony of attention, atrociously alert to every sound, hearing with every nerve in her body. Her nerves had


  ― 285 ―
collapsed under the repeated debauches, and the scream of an engine shunting in the railway yards went through her like a knife. The confused rumble of carts in Regent Street, the familiar sounds from the shop below, the slamming of a door, a voice raised in inquiry, the monotonous, kindly echoes of life, struck on the raw edges of her nerves, exasperating her to madness.

And through it all her ears sought for two sounds with agonizing acuteness — the firm, rapid step of Jonah mounting the stairs winding from the shop, or the nonchalant, laggard footfall of Ray ascending from the stairs at the rear. Would Cassidy send the bottle and trust her for the other eighteen pence? Would Jonah hurry back to meet Miss Grimes? Presently her ear distinguished the light, uncertain step of Ray. Every nerve in her body leapt for joy when she saw the bottle. She looked at the clock, it was nearly four. She had at least an hour clear, for Jonah would be in no hurry now that he had missed the music-lesson. She snatched the bag from the astonished child.

“Go an' see if yer father's in the shop. If 'e ain't there, yer can go an' play in the lane till 'e comes back,” she cried.

Her hands shook as she held the bottle, but with a supreme effort she controlled her muscles and drew the cork without a sound, an accomplishment that she had learned in the back parlour of the Angel. She poured out half a glass, and swallowed it neat. The fiery liquid burnt her throat and brought the tears to her eyes, but she endured it willingly for the sake of the blessed relief that always followed.


  ― 286 ―
A minute later she repeated the dose and lay down on the bed. In ten minutes the seductive liquid had calmed her nerves like oil on troubled waters. She listened to the familiar sounds of the shop and the street with a delicious languor and sense of comfort in her body. In an hour she had reached the maudlin stage, and the bottle was half empty.

She felt at peace with the world, and began to think kindly of Jonah. Hazily she remembered her bitter speech to Miss Grimes, and wondered at her violence. There was nothing the matter with him. He had been a good husband to her, working day and night to get on in the world. She felt a sudden desire to be friendly with him. Maudlin tears of self-reproach filled her eyes as she thought how she had stood in his way instead of helping him. She would mend her ways, give up the drink which was killing her, and take her proper position, with a fine house and servants. With a fatuous obstinacy in her sodden brain, she decided not to lose a minute, but to go and surprise Jonah with her noble resolutions.

She got to her feet, and saw the brandy bottle. Ah! Jonah must not know that she had been drinking, and with the last conscious act of her clouded brain she staggered into the sitting-room and hid the bottle under the cushions of the sofa. Then, conscious of nothing but her resolve, she lurched to the top of the stairs. It was nearly dark, and she felt for the railing, but the weight of her body sent an atrocious pain through her leg, and to ease it she took a step forward to put her weight on the other. And then, without fear, and without the desire or the


  ― 287 ―
power to save herself, she stepped into space and fell headlong down the winding staircase that she had always dreaded, rolling and bumping with a horrible noise on the wooden steps down to the shop, where the electric lights had just been switched on. She rolled sideways, and lay, with a curious slackness in her limbs, in front of the cashier's desk. One of the shopmen, startled by the noise, turned, and then, with a look of horror on his face, ran to the door. He bumped into Jonah, who was coming from the ladies' department.

“Wot the devil's this?” cried Jonah.

The man turned and pointed to the huddled heap at the foot of the stairs.

“It's yer missis. She fell from the top. 'Er face is looking the wrong way.”

Jonah ran forward and shouted for a doctor. Then he knelt down and tried to lift Ada into a sitting posture, but her head sagged on one side. And Jonah realized suddenly, with a curious feeling of detachment, that he was free. When the doctor arrived, he told them that death had been instantaneous, as she had broken her neck in the fall.

The next day the “Silver Shoe” was closed on account of the funeral. The Grimes family sent a wreath, but Jonah looked in vain for Clara among the mourners. He was disappointed but relieved, fearing that the exultation in his heart would betray him in the presence of strangers. He dwelt with rapture on the moment in which he would meet her face to face, free to love and be loved, willing to lose some precious hours for the sake of rehearsing schemes for the future in his mind. He listened


  ― 288 ―
without emotion to the conventional regrets of the mourners, agreeing mechanically with their empty remarks on his great loss, a mocking devil in his brain.

The day after the funeral the Silver Shoe returned to business, and Jonah spent the morning in the shop, too nervous to sit idle. He had spent a sleepless night debating whether he should go to Clara or wait till she came to him of her own accord. The shop was alive with customers, drawn by the red-letter sale, but there was no sign of the one woman above all he desired to see. Suddenly he decided, with a certainty that astonished him, that she would come in the afternoon. After dinner he stayed in the sitting-room, fidgeting with impatience. He looked for something to do, and remembered that he had still to clear up the mystery of Ada's drunken bout. All the shop-hands had denied lending her money, and the mystery was increased by his finding no bottle in the usual hiding places. Ray, when questioned about brandy, had stared at him with bewildered eyes. And to calm his nerves he made another search of the rooms.

He turned out the drawers and cupboards, meeting everywhere evidence of Ada's slovenly habits. And at the sight and touch of the tawdry laces and flaring ribbons he was surprised by an emotion of tenderness and pity for his dead wife. He realized that the last link had snapped that bound him to Cardigan Street and the Push. Something vibrated in him as he thought of the woman who had shared his youth, and he understood suddenly that no other woman could disturb her possession of the years that were


  ― 289 ―
dead. Clara could share the future with him, but half his life belonged irrevocably to Ada.

He had searched every likely nook and corner of the rooms, and found nothing. The absence of the bottle set him thinking. He became certain that the hand of another was in this. Ada had never left her room; therefore the bottle had been brought to her. And the one who brought it had taken it away again. Clara had been the last one to see her alive, and of course …He stopped with an unshaped thought in his mind, and then smiled at it for an absurdity. Tired with his exertions, he sat on the sofa, digging his elbow into the cushion, and instantly felt something hard underneath. The next moment he was on his feet, holding in his hands the bottle of brandy, half empty. He stared stupidly at the bottle that had sent Ada to her death and set him free, wondering who had paid for it and brought it into the house. As he turned the bottle in his hands, examining it with the morbid interest with which one examines a bloodstained knife, he heard a light tap on the door.

“Come in,” he cried, absorbed in his discovery.

He turned with the bottle in his hands, to find Clara standing in the doorway with a tremulous smile on her lips. But, as Jonah turned, her eye fell on the bottle.

“I've been a day findin' this,” said Jonah; “but now …”

An extraordinary change in Clara's face stopped the words on his lips. The tremulous smile on her parted lips changed to a nervous grin, and her colour turned to a greyish white as she stared at the bottle,


  ― 290 ―
her eyes dilated with horror. For some moments there was a dreadful silence, in which Jonah distinctly heard Miss Giltinan giving an order downstairs. Slowly he looked from Clara to the bottle. Again he stared at the frightened woman, and his mind leapt to a dreadful certainty.

“Come in, an' shut the door,” he said. His voice was little more than a whisper.

Clara obeyed him mechanically.

“Sit down,” he added, putting the bottle on the table.

For a while each stared at the other, too stunned to move or speak. Jonah's world had fallen about his ears, and Clara's dreams of wealth mocked at her and fled.

Suddenly, in the deadly silence, Jonah began to speak.

“So it was you, was it? I never thought of that. I wonder what brought yer 'ere just as I found this? They say murder will out, an' I believe it now. If this 'appened to anybody else, 'e'd go mad. But I can stand it. I'm tough. I fought my way up from the gutter. An' ye're the woman that I worshipped …For God's sake, woman, speak! Make up something that I can believe. Say yer never 'ad a 'and in this, an' I'll kiss the ground yer walk on. No, it wouldn't be any use. I couldn't believe the angel Gabriel, if he looked at me with that face. Yer paid for that bottle an' brought it 'ere. I saw that the moment yer set eyes on it. Yer thought Ada wasn't goin' ter hell fast enough, an' yer'd give 'er a shove. An' I see now why yer did it. Yer wanted ter step into 'er shoes, an' 'andle my money. It wasn't me


  ― 291 ―
yer wanted. I might 'ave known that. It was the shop that yer were always talkin' about. An' if yer 'adn't walked in at that door just now, I should never 'ave suspected. Screamin' funny, ain't it? She wasn't much loss, but she was a thousand times better than the ladylike devil that killed her. I don't know 'ow the law stands in a case like this. Yer may be safe from that, but yer've got me ter deal with first. Yer led me on with yer damned airs to believe in things I've never dreamt of before. An' now yer've killed the best in me as sure as yer murdered my wife. Well, yer must pay for that, too.”

Clara sat on the chair like one in a trance. She understood in a numbed kind of way that something dreadful was going to happen. O God, she had never meant to do wrong! And if this was the punishment, let it come quickly. Jonah had been walking backwards and forwards with nervous steps, and she noted every detail of his person with a fixed stare. The early repugnance to his deformity returned with horror as she studied the large head, wedged between the shoulders as if a giant's hand had pressed it down, the projecting hump, and the unnaturally long arms ending in the hard, hairy fist of the shoemaker.

She felt that he was going to kill her. She wanted to speak, to cry out that she was not so guilty as he thought, but her tongue was like a rasp. Suddenly Jonah stopped in front of her. Her stony silence had maddened him, and in a moment he was transformed into the old-time larrikin, accustomed to demand an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. He


  ― 292 ―
rushed at her with a cry like an animal, and caught her by the throat with his powerful hands. But the contact of his fingers with that delicate flesh that he had never dared to touch before brought him to his senses. A violent shudder shook him like ague, his fingers relaxed, and with a sobbing cry, dreadful to hear, he dragged the fainting woman to her feet and pushed her towards the door, crying “Go, go, for God's sake!”

She walked unsteadily through the shop with a face the colour of chalk, hearing and seeing nothing. The red-letter sale was in full swing. A crowd of customers jostled one another as they passed in and out; the coins clinked merrily in the till. Miss Giltinan caught sight of her face, and wondered. Half an hour later, growing suspicious, she ran upstairs, and knocked at the door on a pretext of business. Hearing nothing, she opened the door, with her heart in her mouth, and looked in. Jonah was crouching motionless on the end of the sofa, his head buried among the cushions, like a stricken animal. Puzzled, but reassured, she closed the door gently and went downstairs.

Jonah never saw Clara again. He spent a week in the depths, groping blindly, hating life for its deceptions. Then, one day, his passion of hatred and loathing for Clara left him suddenly, as a garrison surrenders without a blow. He took a cab to her house, and knocked at the door. A curtain moved, but the door remained unopened. A month later he learned that she had married her old love, the clerk in the Lands Department, transferred by request


  ― 293 ―
to Wagga, beyond the reach of Dad and his reputation. The following year Jonah married Miss Giltinan, chiefly on account of Ray, who was growing unmanageable; and on Monday morning it was one of the sights of Regent Street to see the second Mrs. Jones step into her sulky to drive round and inspect the suburban branches of the “Silver Shoe” which Jonah had opened under her direction.

Chook and Pinkey did not need to stare at sixpence before spending it, but their fortune was long in the making. Meanwhile Chook consoled himself with the presence of a sturdy son, the image of Pinkey, with a mop of curls the colour of a new penny.

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