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Chapter V

Were They Conspirators?

noteNEITHER Ned nor Nellie spoke as they journeyed down George-street in the rumbling 'bus. “I've got tickets,” was all she said as they entered the ferry shed at the Circular Quay. They climbed to the upper deck of the ferry boat in silence. He got up when she did and went ashore by her side without a word. He did not notice the glittering lights that encircled the murky night. He did not even know if it were wet or fine, or whether the moon shone or not. He was in a daze. The horrors of living stunned him. The miseries of poor Humanity choked him. The foul air of these noisome streets sickened him. The wretched faces he had seen haunted him. The oaths of the gutter children and the wailing of the blind beggar-girl seemed to mingle in a shriek that shook his very soul.

If he could have persuaded himself that the bush had none of this, it would have been different. But he could not. The stench of the stifling shearing-sheds and of the crowded sleeping huts where men are packed in rows like trucked sheep came to him with the sickening smell of the slums. On the faces of men in the bush he had seen again and again that hopeless look as of goaded oxen straining through a mud-hole, that utter degradation, that humble plea for charity. He had known them in Western Queensland often in spite of all that was said of the free, brave bush. It was not new to him, this dark side of life; that was the worst of it. It had been all along and he had known that it had been, but never before had he understood the significance of it, never before had he realised how utterly civilisation has failed. And this was what crushed him—the hopelessness of it all, the black despair that seemed to fill the universe, the brutal weariness of living, the ceaseless round of sorrow and sin and shame and unspeakable misery.

Often in the bush it had come to him, lying sleepless at night under the star-lit sky, all alone excepting for the tinkling of his horse-bell: “What is to be the end for me? What is there to look forward to?” And his heart had sunk within him at the

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prospect. For what was in front? What could be? Shearing and waiting for shearing—that was his life. Working over the sweating sheep under the hot iron shed in the sweltering summer time; growing sick and losing weight and bickering with the squatter till the few working months were over; then an occasional job, but mostly enforced idling till the season came round again; looking for work from shed to shed; struggling against conditions; agitating; organising; and in the future years, aged too soon, wifeless and childless, racked with rheumatism, shaken with fevers, to lie down to die on the open plain perchance or crawl, feebled and humbled, to the State-charity of Dunwich. He used to shut his eyes to force such thoughts from him, fearing lest he go mad, as were those travelling swagmen he met sometimes, who muttered always to themselves and made frantic gestures as they journeyed, solitary, through the monotonous wilderness. He had flung himself into unionism because there was nothing else that promised help or hope and because he hated the squatters, who took, as he looked at it, contemptible advantage of the bushmen. And he had felt that with unionism men grew better and heartier, gambling less and debating more, drinking less and planning what the union would do when it grew strong enough. He had worked for the union before it came, had been one of those who preached it from shed to shed and argued for it by smouldering camp fires before turning in. And he had seen the union feeling spread until the whole Western country throbbed with it and until the union itself started into life at the last attempt of the squatter to force down wages and was extending itself now as fast as even he could wish to see it. “We only want what is fair,” he had told Nellie; “we're not going in for anything wild. So long as we get a pound a hundred and rations at a fair figure we're satisfied.” And Nellie had shown him things which had struck him dumb and broken through the veneer of satisfaction that of late had covered over his old doubts and fears.

“What is to be the end for me?” he used to think, then force himself not to think in terror. Now, he himself seemed so insignificant, the union he loved so seemed so insignificant, he was only conscious for the time being of the agony of the world at large, which dulled him with the reflex of its pain. Oh, these puny foul-tongued children! Oh, these haggard weary women! Oh, these hopeless imbruted men! Oh, these young girls steeped

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in viciousness, these awful streets, this hateful life, this hell of Sydney. And beyond it—hell, still hell. Ah, he knew it now, unconsciously, as in a swoon one hears voices. The sorrow of it all! The hatefulness of it all! The weariness of it all! Why do we live? Wherefore? For what end, what aim? The selector, the digger, the bushman, as the townman, what has life for them? It is in Australia as all over the world. Wrong triumphs. Life is a mockery. God is not. At least, so it came gradually to Ned as he walked silently by Nellie's side.

They had turned down a tree-screened side road, descending again towards the harbour. Nellie stopped short at an iron gate, set in a hedge of some kind. A tree spanned the gateway with its branches, making the gloomy night still darker. The click of the latch roused her companion.

“Do you think it's any good living?” he asked her.

noteShe did not answer for a moment or two, pausing in the gateway. A break in the western sky showed a grey cloud faintly tinged with silver. She looked fixedly up at it and Ned, his eyes becoming accustomed to the gloom, thought he saw her face working convulsively. But before he could speak again, she turned round sharply and answered, without a tremor in her voice:

“I suppose that's a question everybody must answer for themselves.”

“Well, do you?”

“For myself, yes.”

“For others, too?”

“For most others, no.” The intense bitterness of her tone stamped her words into his brain.

“Then why for you any more than anybody else?”

“I'll tell you after. We must go in. Be careful! You'd better give me your hand!”

She led the way along a short paved path, down three or four stone steps, then turned sharply along a small narrow verandah. At the end of the verandah was a door. Nellie felt in the darkness for the bell-button and gave two sharp rings.

“Where are you taking me, Nellie?” he asked. “This is too swell a place for me. It looks as though everybody was gone to bed.”

In truth he was beginning to think of secret societies and mysterious midnight meetings. Only Nellie had not mentioned

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anything of the kind and he felt ashamed of acknowledging his suspicions by enquiring, in case it should turn out to be otherwise. Besides, what did it matter? There was no secret society which he was not ready to join if Nellie was in it, for Nellie knew more about such things than he did. It was exactly the place for meetings, he thought, looking round. Nobody would have dreamt that it was only half an hour ago that they two had left Paddy's Market. Here was the scent of damp earth and green trees and heavily perfumed flowers; the rustling of leaves; the fresh breath of the salt ocean. In the darkness, he could see only a semi-circling mass of foliage under the sombre sky, no other houses nor sign of such. He could not even hear the rumbling of the Sydney streets nor the hoarse whispering of the crowded city; not even a single footfall on the road they had come down. For the faint lap-lap-lapping of water filled the pauses, when the puffy breeze failed to play on its leafy pipes. Here a Mazzini might hide himself and here the malcontents of Sydney might gather in safety to plot and plan for the overthrow of a hateful and hated “law and order.” So he thought.note

“Oh, they're not gone to bed,” replied Nellie, confidently. “They live at the back. It overlooks the harbour that side. And you'll soon see they're not as swell as they look. They're splendid people. Don't be afraid to say just what you think.”

“I'm not afraid of that, if you're not.”

“Ah, there's someone.”

An inside door opened and closed again, then they heard a heavy footstep coming, which paused for a moment, whereat a flood of colour streamed through a stained glass fanlight over the door.

“That's Mr. Stratton,” announced Nellie.

Next moment the door at which they stood was opened by a bearded man, wearing loose grey coat and slippers.

“Hello, Nellie!” exclaimed this possible conspirator, opening the door wide. “Connie said it was your ring. Come straight in, both of you. Good evening, sir. Nellie's friends are our friends and we've heard so much of Ned Hawkins that we seem to have known you a long while.” He held out his hand and shook Ned's warmly, giving a strong, clinging, friendly grip, not waiting for any introduction. “Of course, this is Mr. Hawkins, Nellie?” he enquired, seriously, turning to that young woman, whose hands he took in both of his while looking quizzingly from Ned to her and back to Ned again.

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“Yes, of course,” she answered, laughing. Ned laughed. The possible conspirator laughed as he answered, dropping her hands and turning to shut the door :

“Well, it mightn't have been. By the way, Nellie, you must have sent an astral warning that you were coming along. We were just talking about you.”

They had been discussing Nellie in the Stratton circle, as our best friends will when we are so fortunate as to interest them.

In the pretty sitting-room that overlooked the rippling water, Mrs. Stratton perched on the music stool, was giving, amid many interjections, an animated account of the opera: a dark-haired, grey-eyed, full-lipped woman of 30 or so, with decidedly large nose and broad rounded forehead, somewhat under the medium height apparently but pleasingly plump as her evening dress disclosed. She talked rapidly, in a sweet expressive voice that had a strange charm. Her audience consisted of an ugly little man, with greyish hair, who stood at a bookcase in the corner and made his remarks over his shoulder; a gloomy young man, who sat in a reclining chair, with his arm hanging listlessly by his side; and a tall dark-moustached handsome man, broadly built, who sat on the edge of a table smoking a wooden pipe, and who, from his observations, had evidently accompanied her home from the theatre after the second act. There was also her husband, who leant over her, his back turned to the others, unhooking her fur-edged opera cloak, a tall fair brown bearded man, evidently the elder by some years, whose blue eyes were half hidden beneath a strongly projected forehead. He fumbled with the hooks of the cloak, passing his hands beneath it, smiling slyly at her the while. She, flushing like a girl at the touch, talked away while pressing her knee responsively against his. It was a little love scene being enacted of which the others were all unconscious unless for a general impression that this long-married couple were as foolishly in love as ever and indulged still in all the mild raptures of lovers.

“Ever so much obliged,” she said, pausing in her talk and looking at him at last, as he drew the cloak from her shoulders.

“You should be,” he responded, straightening himself out. “It's quite a labour unhooking one of you fine ladies.”

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“Don't call me names, Harry, or I'll get somebody else to take it off next time. I'm afraid it's love's labour lost. It's quite chilly, and I think I'll wrap it round me.”

“Well, if you will go about half undressed,” he commented, putting the cloak round her again.

“Half undressed! You are silly. The worst of this room is there's no fire in it. I think one needs a fire even in summer time, when it's damp, to take the chill off. Besides, as Nellie says, a blazing fire is the most beautiful picture you can put in a room.”

“Isn't Nellie coming to-night?” asked the man who smoked the wooden pipe.

“Why, of course, Ford. Haven't I told you she said on Thursday that she would come and bring the wild untamed bushman with her? Nellie always keeps her word.”

“She's a wonderful girl,” remarked Ford.

“Wonderful? Why wonderful is no name for it,” declared Stratton, lighting a cigar at one of the piano candles. “She is extraordinary.”

“I tell Nellie, sometimes, that I shall get jealous of her, Harry gets quite excited over her virtues, and thinks she has no faults, while poor I am continually offending the consistencies.”

“Who is Nellie?” enquired the ugly little man, turning round suddenly from the book case which he had been industriously ransacking.

“I like Geisner,” observed Mrs. Stratton, pointing at the little man. “He sees everything, he hears everything, he makes himself at home, and when he wants to know anything he asks a straightforward question. I think you've met her, though, Geisner.”

“Perhaps. What is her other name?”

“Lawton—Nellie Lawton. She came here once or twice when you were here before, I think, and for the last year or so she's been our—our—what do you call it, Harry? You know—the thing that South Sea Islanders think is the soul of a chief.” note

“You're ahead of me, Connie. But it doesn't matter; go on.”

“There's nothing to go on about. You ought to recollect her, Geisner. I'm sure you met her here.”

“I think I do. Wasn't she a tall, between-colours girl, quite young, with a sad face and queer stern mouth—a trifle cruel, the mouth, if I recollect. She used to sit across there by the piano, in a plain black dress, and no colour at all except one of your roses.” note

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“Good gracious! What a memory! Have you got us all ticketed away like that?”

“It's habit,” pleaded Geisner. “She didn't say anything, and only that she had a strong face, I shouldn't have noticed her. Has she developed?”

“Something extraordinary,” struck in Stratton, puffing great clouds of smoke. “She speaks French, she reads music, she writes uncommonly good English, and in some incomprehensible way she has formed her own ideas of Art. Not bad for a dressmaking girl who lives in a Sydney back street and sometimes works sixteen hours a day, is it?” note

“Well, no. Only you must recollect, Stratton, that if she's been in your place pretty often, most of the people she meets here must have given her a wrinkle or two.”

“You're always in opposition, Geisner,” declared Mrs. Stratton. “I never heard you agree with anybody else's statement yet. Nellie is wonderful. You can't shake our faith in that. There is but one Womanity and Nellie is its prophet.”

“It's all right about her getting wrinkles here, Geisner,” contributed Ford, “for of course she has. It was what made her, Mrs. Stratton getting hold of her. But at the same time she is extraordinary. When she's been stirred up I've heard her tackle the best of the men who come here and down them. On their own ground too. I don't see how on earth she has managed to do it in the time. She's only twenty now.” note

“I'll tell you, if you'll light the little gas stove for me, Ford, and put the kettle on,” said Mrs. Stratton, drawing her cloak more tightly round her shoulders. “I know some of you men don't believe it, but it is the truth nevertheless that Feeling is higher than Reason. Isn't it chilly? You see, after all, you can only reason as to why you feel. Well, Nellie feels. She is an artist. She has got a soul.”

“What do you call an artist?” queried Geisner, partly for the sake of the argument, partly to see the little woman flare up.

“An artist is one who feels—that's all. Some people can fashion an image in wood or stone, or clay, or paint, or ink, and then they imagine that they are the only artists, when in reality three-quarters of them aren't artists at all but the most miserable mimics and imitators—highly trained monkeys, you know. Nellie is an artist. She can understand dumb animals and hear music in the wind and the waves, and all sorts of things. And

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to her the world is one living thing, and she can enjoy its joys and worry over its sorrows, and she understands more than most why people act as they do because she feels enough to put herself in their place. She is such an artist that she not only feels herself but impels those she meets to feel. Besides, she has a freshness that is rare nowadays. I'm very fond of Nellie.”

“Evidently,” said Geisner; “I've got quite interested. Is she dressmaking still?”

“Yes; I wanted her to come and live with us but she wouldn't. Then Harry got her a better situation in one of the government departments. You know how those things are fixed. But she wouldn't have it. You see she is trying to get the girls into unions.”

“Then she is in the movement?” asked Geisner, looking up quickly.

Mrs. Stratton lifted her eye-brows. “In the movement! Why, haven't you understood? My dear Geisner, here we've been talking for fifteen minutes and—there's Nellie's ring. Harry, go and open the door while I pour the coffee.”

The opera cloak dropped from her bare shoulders as she rose from the stool. She had fine shoulders, and altogether was of fashionable appearance, excepting that there was about her the impalpable, but none the less pronounced, air of the woman who associates with men as a comrade. As she crossed the room to the verandah she stopped beside the gloomy young man, who had said nothing. He looked up at her affectionately.

“You are wrong to worry,” she said, softly. “Besides, it makes you bad company. You haven't spoken to a soul since we came in. For a punishment come and cut the lemon.”

They went out on to the verandah together, her hand resting on his arm. There, on a broad shelf, a kettle of water was already boiling over a gas stove.

“What are you thinking of,” she chattered. “We shall have some more of your ferocious poetry, I suppose. I notice that about you, Arty. Whenever you get into your blue fits you always pour out blood and thunder verses. The bluer you are the more volcanic you get. When you have it really bad you simply breathe dynamite, barricades, brimstone, everything that is emphatic. What is it this time?” note

He laughed. “Why won't you let a man stay blue when he feels like it?”

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She did not seem to think an answer necessary, either to his question or her own. “Have you a match?” she went on. “Ah! There is one thing in which a man is superior to woman. He can generally get a light without running all over the house. That is so useful of him. It's his one good point. I can't imagine how any woman can tolerate a man who doesn't smoke. I suppose one gets used to it, though.”

He laughed again, turning up the gas-jet he had lighted, which flickered in the puffs of wind that came off the water below. “I could tell you a good story about that.”

“That is what I like, a good story. Gas is a nuisance. I wish we had electric lights. Sydney only wants two things to be perfect, never to rain and moonlight all the time. Why I declare! If there aren't Hero and Leander! Well, of all the spooniest, unsociable, selfish people, you two are the worst. You haven't even had the kindness to let us know you were in all the time, and you actually see Arty and me toiling away at the coffee without offering to help. I've given you up long ago, Josie, but I did expect better things of you, George.”

While she had been speaking, pouring the boiling water into the coffee-pot meanwhile, Arty cutting lemons into slices, the two lovers discovered by the flickering gaslight got out of a hammock slung across the end of the verandah and came forward.

“You seemed to be getting along so well we didn't like to disturb you, Mrs. Stratton,” explained George, shaking hands. He was bronzed and bright-eyed, not handsome but strong and kindly-looking; he had a kindly voice, too; he wore a white flannel boating costume under a dark cloth coat. Josie also wore a sailor dress of dark blue with loose white collar and vest; a scarlet wrap covered her short curly hair; her skin was milk-white and her features small and irregular. Josie and Connie could never be mistaken for anything but sisters, in spite of the eleven years between them. Only Josie was pretty and plastic and passionless, and Connie was not pretty nor plastic nor passionless. They were the contrast one sees so often in children kin-born of the summer and autumn of life.

“Don't tell me!” said Mrs. Stratton. “I know all about that.”

“Connie knows,” said Josie, putting her arms over her sister's shoulders—the younger was the taller—and drawing her face back. “Do you know, Arty, I daren't go into a room in a house I know without knocking. The lady has been married twelve

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years and when her husband is away he writes to her every day, and though they have quite big children they send them to bed and sit for hours in the same chair, billing and cooing. I've known them—”

“I wonder who they can be,” interrupted Mrs. Stratton, twisting herself free, her face as red as Josie's shawl. “There's Nellie's voice. They'll be wondering what we're doing here. Do come along!” And seizing a tray of cups and saucers, on which she had placed the coffeepot and the saucer of sliced lemon, she beat a dignified retreat amid uproarious laughter.

Ned found himself in a narrow hall that ran along the side of the house at right angles to the verandah and the road. The floor was covered with oil-cloth; the walls were hung with curios, South Sea spears and masks, Japanese armour, boomerangs, nullahs, a multitude of quaint workings in wood and grass and beads. Against the wall facing the door was an umbrella stand and hat rack of polished wood, with a mirror in the centre. There were two pannelled doors to the left; a doorless stairway, leading downwards, and a large window to the right; at the end of the passage a glazed door, with coloured panes. A gas jet burned in a frosted globe noteand seeing him look at this Stratton explained the contrivance for turning the light down to a mere dot which gave no gleam but could be turned up again in a second.note

“My wife is enthusiastic about household invention,” he concluded, smiling. “She thinks it assists in righting women's wrongs. Eh, Nellie? The freed and victorious female will put her foot on abject man some day? Eh?”

Nellie laughed again. She held the handle of the nearest door in one hand. Mr. Stratton had turned to take Ned's hat, apologising for neglecting to think of that before. Ned saw the girl's other hand move quickly up to where the gas bracket met the wall and then the light went out altogether. “That's for poking fun,” he heard her say. The door slammed, a key turned in it and he heard her laughing on the other side.

“Larrikin!” shouted Stratton, boisterously. “Come out here and see what we'll do to you. She's always up to her tricks,” he added, striking a match and turning the gas on again. “She is a fine girl. We are as fond of her as though she were one of the family. She is one of the family, for that matter.”

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Ned hardly believed his ears or his eyes, either. He had not seen Nellie like this before. She had been grave and rather stern. Only at the gate he had thought he detected in her voice a bitterness which answered well to his own bitter heartache; he had thought he saw on her face the convulsive suppression of intense emotion. Certainly this very day she had shown him the horrors of Sydney and taught him, as if by magic, the misery of living. Now, she laughed lightly and played a trick with the quickness of a thoughtless school girl. Besides, how did it happen that she was so at home in this house of well-to-do people, and so familiar with this man of a cultured class? Ned did not express his thoughts in such phrases of course, but that was the effect of them. He had laughed, but he was still sad and sick at heart and somehow these pleasantries jarred on him. It looked as if there were some secret understanding certainly, some bond that he could not distinguish, between the girl of the people and this courteous gentleman. Nellie had told him simply that the Strattons were “interested in the Labour movement” and were very nice, but Stratton spoke of her as “one of the family” and she turned out his gas and locked one of his own doors in his face. If it was a secret society, well and good, no matter how desperate its plan. But why did they laugh and joke and play tricks? He was not in the humour. For the time his soul abhorred what seemed to him frippery. He sought intuitively to find relief in action and he began impatiently to look for it here.

“Hurry, Nellie!” cried Stratton. “Coffee's nearly ready.”

“You won't touch me?” answered her merry voice.

“No, we'll forgive you this once, but look out for the next time.”

She opened the door forthwith and stepped out quickly. Ned caught a glimpse of a large bedroom through the doorway. She had taken off her hat and gloves and smoothed the hair that lay on her neck in a heavy plait. At the collar of the plain black dress that fell to her feet over the curving lines of her supple figure she had placed a red rose, half blown. She was tall and straight and graceful, more than beautiful in her strong fresh womanhood, as much at home in such a house as this as in the wretched room where he had watched her sewing slop-clothes that morning. His aching heart went out towards her in a burst of unspoken feeling which he did not know at the time to be Love.

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“Mrs. Stratton always puts a flower for me. She loves roses.” So she said to Ned, seeing him looking astonishedly at her. Then she slipped one hand inside the arm that Stratton bent towards her, and took hold of Ned's arm with the other. Stratton turned down the gas. Linked thus together the three went cautiously down the dim passage hall-way, towards the glass door through one side of which coloured light came.

“Anybody particular here?” asked Nellie.

“That's a nice question,” retorted Stratton. “Geisner is here, if you call him ‘anybody particular.’”

“Geisner! Is he back again?” exclaimed the girl. Ned felt her hand clutch him nervously. A sudden repulsion to this Geisner shot through him. He pulled his arm from her grasp.

They had reached the end of the passage, however, and she did not notice. Stratton turned the handle and opened the door, held back the half-drawn curtain that hung on the further side and they passed in. “Here we are,” he cried. “Geisner says he recollects you, Nellie.”

noteNed could have described the room to the details if he had been struck blind that minute. It was a double room, long and low and not very broad, running the whole width of the house, for there were windows on two sides and French lights on another. The glazed door opened in the corner of the windowless side. Opposite were the French lights, the further one swung ajar and showing a lighted verandah beyond from which came a flutter of voices. Beyond still were dim points of light that he took at first for stars. Folding doors, now swung right back, divided the long linoleum-floored room into two apartments, a studio and a sitting-room. The studio in which they stood was littered with things strange to him; an easel, bearing a half-finished drawing; a black-polished cabinet; a table-desk against the window, on it slips of paper thrown carelessly about, the ink-well open, a file full of letters, a handful of cigarettes, a tray of tobacco ash, a bespattered palette, pens, coloured crayons, a medley of things; a revolving office chair, with a worn crimson footrug before it; a many-shelved glass case against the blank wall, crammed to overflowing with shells and coral and strange grasses, with specimens of ore, with Chinese carvings, with curious lacquer-work; a large brass-bound portfolio stand; on the painted walls plaster-casts of hands and arms and feet, boxing gloves, fencing foils, a glaring tiger's

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head, a group of photographs; in the corner, a suit of antique armour stood sentinel over a heap of dumb-bells and Indian clubs.

In the sitting room beyond the folded doors, a soft coloured rug carpet lay loosely on the floor. There were easy chairs there and a red lounge that promised softness; a square cloth-covered table; a whatnot in the corner; fancy shelves; a pretty walnut-wood piano, gilt lined, the cover thrown back, laden with music; on the music-stool a woman's cloak was lying, on the piano a woman's cap. A great book-case reached from ceiling to floor, filled with books, its shelves fringed with some scalloped red stuff. Everywhere were nick-nacks in china, in glass, in terra-cotta, in carved woods, in ivory; photo frames; medallions. On the walls, bright with striped hangings, were some dainty pictures. Half concealed by the hangings was another door. Lying about on the table, here and there on low shelves, were more books. The ground-glass globes of the gaslights were covered with crimson shades. There was a subdued blaze of vivid colouring, of rich toned hues, of beautiful things loved and cherished, over all. Sitting on the edge of the table was the moustached man who smoked the wooden pipe. And turning round from the book-case, an open book in his hand, was the ugly little man. Ned felt that this was Geisner.

The ugly little man put down his book, and came forward holding out his hand. He smiled as he came. Ned was angered to see that when he smiled his face became wonderfully pleasant.note

“Yes; I think we know one another, Miss Lawton,” he said, meeting them on the uncarpeted floor.

“I am so glad you are here to-night,” she replied, greeting him warmly, almost effusively. “I recollect you so well. And Ned will know you, too—Mr. Geisner, Mr. Hawkins.” Ned felt his reluctantly extended hand enclosed in a strong friendly clasp.

“Hawkins is the Queenslander we were expecting,” said Stratton cheerfully. “You will excuse my familiarity, won't you?” he added, laying his hand on Ned's shoulder. “We don't ‘Mister’ our friends much here. I think it sounds cold and distant; don't you?”

“We don't ‘Mister’ much where I come from,” answered Ned. He felt at home already. The atmosphere of kindness in this place stole over him and prevented him thinking that it was too “swell” for him.note

“I don't know Queensland much ——, ” Geisner was beginning, when the farther verandah door was swung wide and the dark-

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haired little woman swept in, tray in hand, the train of her dress trailing behind her.

“I heard you, Nellie dear,” she cried. “That unfeeling Josie was saying the cruellest things to me. I feel as red as red.” Putting the tray down on the table she hurried to them, threw her plump bare arms round Nellie's neck and kissed her warmly on both cheeks. Then she drew back quickly and raised her finger threateningly. “Worrying again, Nellie, I can tell. My word! What with you and what with Arty I'm made thoroughly wretched. You mayn't think so to look at me, Mr. Hawkins,” she rattled on, holding out her hand to Ned; “but it is so. You see I know you. I heard Nellie introducing you. That husband of mine must leave all conventionalism to his guests, it seems. You're incorrigible, Harry.”

There was a welcome in her every word and look. She put him on a friendly footing at once.

“You have enough conventionalism to-night for us both, my fine lady,” twitted Stratton, pinching her arm.

“Stop that! Stop, this minute! Nellie, hit him for me. Mr. Hawkins, this is Bohemia. You do as you like. You say what you like. You are welcome to-night for Nellie's sake. You will be welcome always because I like your looks. I do, Harry, so there. And I'm going to call you Ned because Nellie always does. Oh! I forgot—Mr. Hawkins, Mr. Ford. Mr. Ford thinks he can cartoon. I don't know what you think you can do. And now, everybody, come to coffee.” note

The others came in from the verandah, still laughing, whereat Mrs. Stratton flushed red again and denounced Josie and George for hiding away, then introduced them and Arty to Ned. There was a babel of conversation for awhile, Josie and George talking of their boating, Connie and Ford of the opera, Stratton and Arty of a picture they had seen that evening. Geisner sat by Ned and Nellie, the three chatting of the beauty of Sydney harbour, the little man waxing indignant at the vandalism which the naval authorities were perpetrating on Garden Island. Mrs Stratton, all the time, attended energetically to her coffee-pot: Finally she served them all, in small green-patterned china cups, with strong black coffee guiltless of milk, in each cup a slice of lemon floating, in each saucer a biscuit.note

“I hope you like your coffee, Ned,” she exclaimed, a moment

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after. “I forgot to ask you. I'm always forgetting to ask newcomers. You see all the ‘regulars’ like it this way.”

“I've never tasted it this way before,” answered Ned. “I suppose liking it's a habit, like smoking. I think I'll try it.”

She nodded, being engaged in slowly sipping her own. Geisner looked at Ned keenly. There was silence for a little while, broken only by the clatter of cups and an occasional observation. From outside came the ceaseless lap-lap-lapping of the waves, as if rain water was gurgling down from the roof.