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  ― 116 ―

XIV May Denton

WE drove into the city, turned down William Street, and thence struck into the Yarrannabbe Road. It was all strange territory to me, but from the heights I presently caught sight of the harbour and realised the position.

“You live at Double Bay!” I cried. It was the most fashionable part of Sydney.

Shaw smiled. “We'll be late for lunch,” he said.

I felt very nervous, not of meeting strange faces, but of the lunch. I suddenly remembered that I had encountered in several novels scathing reflections on the table manners of parvenus. I had never yet dined with gentlefolk, and wildly wondered if they ate very differently from larrikins. I tried hard to recall all I had ever read on the subject. Mark Twain was helpful, but Max O'Rell almost instructive. Swiftly reviewing—luckily I possessed a prodigious memory —certain sarcastic quips of the anglicised Gaul occurred to me. “He swallowed his knife, but to my astonishment recovered it with magical celerity.” Ergo—do not let a knife pass your lips, Lucas Rowe! “She cut her bread piece by piece, unmindful of my shudders!” Ergo—Lucas Rowe, bite yours! It will be perceived that my conclusions were not always happy. One recollection was most disturbing. “Let me see you eat, and I shall tell you what you are!” I resolved to eat very little, and do nothing upon my own initiative. I determined to take Edward Shaw as my model, and slavishly follow his example in everything.

We drew up at last before a large house situated upon the cliffs, enclosed in a spacious garden, which ran down in rows of terraces to the bay. It was a very pretty place indeed, and surrounded by others of similar pretentiousness. The house was two-storeyed, containing perhaps fifteen rooms, square in shape, built of brick, but cemented over to resemble freestone, and was encompassed with wide


  ― 117 ―
verandahs and glass-enclosed balconies. The garden was bright with dahlias, roses, chrysanthemums, and hibiscus; it was not laid out in any fixed order, but appeared wild and straggling. Maize, poppies, and rock melons grew undisturbed among the shrubs, and half a score of big red-berried pepper trees supplied a welcome shade. It seemed to me a perfect paradise of homeliness and beauty. Shaw opened the front door with a latch key, and led the way upstairs to his bedroom. I obtained my first experience of luxury. I trod on velvet pile carpets, I looked on real oil paintings, on tinted wall papers and tasteful ornaments, with a sense of awakening rapture. I saw many things whose names and uses I did not know. I said to myself, “What happiness it must be to live in a place like this!”

I washed from my hands the stains of Burn's gore, then watched Shaw dress. I saw him attend to his finger-nails with a peculiar instrument, and, realising a new duty, surreptitiously glanced at my own; they were—horribile dictu!—black! With a sense of a terrible danger narrowly averted, I remedied the defect with the aid of my pocket knife. (Since that day my hands have been cared for most tenderly.)

“What a careless beggar you are!” observed Shaw. “You dress abominably; the cut of that suit is too awful for words!”

“You see, I never have had anything to do with women,” I shamefacedly explained. “I'm sorry, though, for your sake.”

“Oh, I don't care, Rowe. As a matter of fact, I hate a dandy. One thing, you always wear clean linen. Till I found that out, I took you for an utter Bohemian!”

“Are Bohemians dirty then?”

“Most of them. How women can suffer them, I don't know!”

“Do they?” I discovered a sudden thirst for information.

“Sydney girls just adore them!” he replied disgustedly.

This was most interesting to me. If Bohemians so much resembled larrikins, it seemed to me that I stood a chance of passing muster. I resolved to pose as a Bohemian.


  ― 118 ―
Not that I was dirty in any of my habits; indeed, I possessed a natural predilection for cleanliness; but I thought that if society could bring itself to pardon filth for the sake of Bohemianism, lesser derelictions and solecisms ought to pass unnoticed. For a month past I had devoted a good deal of study to “Bailey on Etiquette.” I knew how to bow, how not to cross a room, when to sit, stand, and open a door. I had practised speaking in a low voice, and believed that a loud laugh evidenced a total lack of breeding.

Hastily running over the list of my recently acquired accomplishments, I followed Shaw downstairs and into the dining-room. The lack of ceremony in his introduction astonished me.

“Mother, this is my friend Rowe. Rowe, my mother. My cousin, Miss Denton, Mr. Rowe. Hum—er—ah—Mr. Percival, Mr. Rowe. Where's father, mater?”

Mrs. Rowe extended to me a hand, while answering her son. “He is detained in town, Ned. I scarcely expected you. Lunch is almost over. Touch the bell, Rupert, will you?”

Mr. Percival nodded to me, and clanged a gong with hearty good will. Shaw drew me to a chair. I sat down hastily, and looked up to meet the smiling gaze of Amber Eyes.

“I think we have met before, Mr. Rowe,” she said demurely.

I blushed furiously, an absurd trick which I have never been able to this day to cure. “Yes,” I replied.

“My son tells me you are an Englishman,” observed Mrs. Rowe.

She was a stout and handsome woman, with a bold, florid face, very like Shaw's. She looked comfortable, good-natured, and perfectly self-satisfied. I liked her.

“Yes, madam,” I replied.

“Have you been out here long?”

“Not very long—a good while.” I was confused, and answered at random.

“Do you like the Colonies?”

The whole table was listening to the catechism. A servant put before me a plate of fried fish, then served Shaw.


  ― 119 ―
I glanced at him furtively, and observed that he attacked his with a fish knife and fork. I confidently selected similar instruments from beside my plate, and answered, smiling, (Bailey advises a fairly constant employment of smiles), “Well, madam, as yet I have formed no very definite opinions. I came here without introductions, and have in consequence met only a limited number of people. But I like the place extremely; the climate suits me.”

“What part of England do you come from?”

“London. I am a Cockney.”

“Oh, indeed! Have you any relations here?”

“None. I came out simply for the sake of my health.”

“Will you stay long, do you think?”

I commenced to doubt the perfection of Mrs. Shaw's breeding. Following Bailey's advice, I slightly raised my eyebrows in deprecation of her curiosity. “Always, I hope,” I said slowly. I took a mouthful of fish, and, after mastication, discovered a bone. I did not know what to do with it. I looked at Shaw, but could glean no assistance for my dilemma there; he ate gaily on, and bones did not trouble him. I wanted to spit the nuisance out, but feared to compromise myself; finally I bit the brute in half and swallowed it. By the mercy of providence I did not choke. Afterwards I took greater care to separate the particles upon my plate. Once I was on the verge of dipping my knife into the salt; but fortunately just in time observed Shaw use a spoon. I had the same experience with the butter, and when roast beef was set before me, I recklessly applied my new experience to the mustard. I gained confidence with the passing moments, and although at first I felt that everyone was searching me for flaws, I soon realised that my fears were groundless. Mr. Percival was of great assistance to me; he was a most didactic young man, who appeared to love the sound of his own voice. He kept telling funny stories one after another, which made the others laugh. I did not consider them very funny, for I had heard them all before, but I judged it best to laugh too. He had rather a clever-looking face; he was dressed elegantly, and wore an eyeglass, which gave him a supercilious expression. When he laughed, he opened his mouth very wide, and his upper


  ― 120 ―
lip, which was long and thin, shot out at an angle from his teeth like the flap of a leather fly trap.

Amber Eyes, whom I looked at whenever I dared, seemed to hang on his words; she paid me very little attention.

“Is it going to rain to-morrow, Rupert?” asked Shaw, during Percival's first pause.

“Ah!” he cried, “that reminds me of my last visit to Katoomba. It was this way——”

“Oh, bosh!” said Shaw, rudely. “I'm more interested in the question I propounded. I am thinking of the picnic.”

“Ah, indeed. Well, make your mind easy. We'll have a thunderstorm before midnight, but bright skies tomorrow. Well, as I was saying, I was at Katoomba last spring——”

“He's the Daily Phone's weather prophet,” muttered Shaw in my ear.

I nodded. Percival went on.

“And whilst staying at the Carrington I used to go out for long walks every morning. Well, the head waiter there seemed to know all about the weather, a chap named Jim. People all consulted him upon the matter of what to wear, and he was perfect. If I took his advice, I was right as the bank; but if I relied on myself, I would either return home drenched, lacking a waterproof, or else be burdened during my stroll with a useless great-coat. You may guess that I was pretty staggered at the unfailing accuracy of his predictions, and vastly curious. Before I left Katoomba I resolved to purchase his secret, so one evening, showing him half a sovereign, I besought his confidence.

“ ‘It's this way, sir,’ he explained. ‘There's a cove in Sydney named Percival, who is meteorologist for the Daily Phone.' ‘Yes, yes,’ I cried, bucking up, you may be sure, in expectation of a complimentary reference to be unconsciously addressed to myself. ‘Well, sir,’ said Jim, ‘he’s the worst guesser in the world, worse than Russell or Wragge by a long chalk, so when he says it's goin' to be fine, I bet my pile on rain, and vice versa. I always come out on top.’ ‘Yes, yes,’ I cried, bucking up, you may be sure, in expectation of a complimentary reference to be unconsciously addressed to myself. ‘Well, sir,’ said Jim, ‘he's the worst guesser in the world, worse than Russell or Wragge by a long chalk, so when he says it's goin' to be fine, I bet my pile on rain, and vice versa. I always come out on top.’ to be fine, I bet my pile on rain, and vice versa. I always come out on top.' ”

“What a horrid man!” said Amber Eyes.




  ― 121 ―

Shaw laughed. “I guess I shall take a mackintosh with me to-morrow,” he remarked.

“Most unfair!” cried his mother. “Rupert told the story against himself.”

“Oh, I don't mind,” said Percival, with a shoulder shrug; “I am used to being jeered at. Which reminds me——” and he at once embarked upon another story, which I did not listen to, but for which I was grateful, because it covered the introduction of fruit, and enabled me quietly to discover a new mode of eating apples with a knife and fork.

After lunch we withdrew to the garden, and, seated beneath the shade of a large pepper tree on an upper terrace, which commanded a magnificent harbour view, were served with coffee and cigarettes. Mrs. Shaw smoked; but Amber Eyes declined. Mrs. Shaw explained to me that her system required nicotine, and that her doctor had ordered her six cigarettes a day. I did not believe her, and was frankly horrified. Even larrikinesses did not smoke. Percival launched straight away into a discourse on the habits of the ladies of Brazil; apparently everything reminded him of something. I commenced to think him a great bore, especially as he monopolised the attention of Amber Eyes.

Mrs. Shaw at sudden intervals renewed her examination of me.

“Could I play the piano? Did I like dancing? Was I fond of tennis? She hoped I did not play that horrid, rough game football? Had I weak lungs? Had I been to the opera? Did I know Lord Jersey? Had I been to the last ball at Government House? Was I going to the next garden party? Was I a protectionist? What did I think of Mr. Reid? Did I think it proper for unchaperoned girls to go to theatres with casual male escort before they were engaged? and after? She hoped I did not agree with the practice of partners indiscriminately kissing each other at balls between the dances. Did I like ‘doing the block’ in King Street of an afternoon? Did I think Australian girls freer in their manners and faster than English girls?”

I strove to satisfy the lady, and from the very trend of her questions gleaned a considerable insight into the


  ― 122 ―
customs of society. She approved me at last with a smile which just escaped being condescending.

“I am sure you will get on very well out here, Mr. Rowe,” she declared.

I told her that I sincerely hoped so, and at that moment Mr. Percival took his leave. Now Bailey says that a first visit to the house of an acquaintance should be cut as short as possible. Conceiving that I had stayed quite long enough, I, too, rose to go; but Shaw pushed me back into my chair. “You have nothing to do,” he protested; “besides, May—Miss Denton—won't forgive me if you go so soon. She wants to have a long chat with you.”

Miss Denton coloured a little, and Mr. Percival favoured me with a sharp glance, which I thought unwarrantably critical. He sneered as he bowed to me. I wondered why. Could he be in love with Amber Eyes? Hardly so, I thought; she seemed more interested in him than he in her.

Mrs. Rowe strolled with him up the path. Shaw also went off with a cheery “Excuse me, old chap; back soon.”

Amber Eyes and I were thus left alone together. For the first time that day I seriously regarded her. She was very pretty, and beautifully dressed. I confessed to myself that I had never seen a woman more beautiful or more bewitching. Her eyes were wonderful, her brows were mysterious, her whole face strong, but arch and most inviting. She was not at all unapproachable, for while her lips smiled, there was a sort of challenge in her eyes. “As soon as I knew you were English I wanted to know you,” she said. “I love English boys.”

This declaration much disturbed me. I hated to remember that I was not English. I discovered a feverish anxiety to change the conversation.

“Is Mr. Percival engaged to you?” I demanded.

She laughed outright. “What a queer thing to ask! How direct you are! Why do you want to know?”

“You answer my question first!”

She looked surprised, and almost imperceptibly frowned. “You forget I am a girl.”




  ― 123 ―

“Now,” said I, “you can't believe me such an idiot, can you?”

She looked aghast. I had evidently made some mistake. “You are strange!”

I felt afraid of I knew not what. “Do tell me?” I pleaded.

“No—you are rude.”

This made me reckless. “It's you—who are rude!”

“I!” Her eyes opened wide.

“Yes, you! You answered my question by asking another.”

She smiled. “I am not engaged to him. Now tell me why you asked.”

“Because I wished to know.”

“But why?”

“I am interested.”

“How much?” The challenge in her eyes, which had disappeared for a moment, now returned, and became twice as definite. I completely lost my head; she looked so entrancingly pretty that I did not know what to do. I felt a queer, uncanny sort of hunger run through my body.

“Everything!” I cried.

She looked very demurely at her feet. They were shod in patent leather shoes, whose trim and tiny neatness matched the rest of her uncommonly. She seemed soft all over. I wondered if it was the dress or really herself. Her gown was fluffy and silky. It was of very thin stuff; she seemed to fill it, but, oh, so tenderly! She said, or rather she murmured, “What does ‘everything’ mean?”

“The whole world,” I answered, quickly.

She glanced up and glanced down. “What big eyes you have!” she muttered.

“Do you like me?” I demanded.

“I don't know yet.”

“When will you?”

“How can I tell?”

“You saved my life, I believe, that night. Do you remember?”

“Perhaps.”

I sighed.




  ― 124 ―

“What are you sighing for?” she asked.

“Because you are a flirt.”

She laughed merrily. “You wouldn't have me otherwise, would you?”

“No—not yet.”

“When, then?”

“Some day you will have to change, for some one's sake.”

“For yours?” she flashed.

“Why not?” I asked.

“Have you ever been in love?” asked Amber Eyes.

“No. Have you?”

“Not really.”

“Where do you live?”

“Here. Mr. Shaw is my guardian, you know.”

“Is he? Have you no parents?”

She shook her head. “They died when I was very young.”

“So did mine.”

“Poor boy!” said Amber Eyes.

I lighted a cigarette. “It is strange our meeting again, is it not?”

She smiled. “Not so strange. I arranged it.”

“But how?” I demanded. “How did you know even my name or where I was?”

“Edith Glasson read your name in your book that night, and on Commemoration Day I saw you in cap and gown. The rest was easy.”

“Shaw——” I began.

“Quite so. Edward wouldn't hear of it at first. He thought you were a regular outsider; but he changed his mind.”

“Or you for him?”

“No. I had quite lost hope.”

“You mean to say you hoped?”

“Of course I hoped. Nothing wrong about that, is there?”

“You are a queer girl. You are not a bit like what I expected.”

“What did you expect?”




  ― 125 ―

“I scarcely know. Someone utterly unapproachable—miles above my reach.”

“Disappointed? she asked, with a flash of her amber eyes.

“A little.”

She bit her lower lip to repress a laugh. “I am so sorry,” she said, demurely. “Shall I be stiff?”

“Please not,” I cried; “you are altogether delightful as you are.”

“Do you mean that?”

“Thoroughly.”

“But nevertheless you would have preferred me to be cold and stately?”

“No,” I answered, doubtfully; “you are natural, aren't you, as you are?”

“I believe so; but it is only fair to tell you that Aunty and Uncle, and even Edward, think me the most conceited girl alive, and the most affected.”

“Is he, Shaw, in love with you?”

“I live in the same house with him!” replied Miss Denton, in the greatest surprise.

I laughed heartily. “Is that the only reason? Don't people who live together ever fall in love?”

“I should say not,” she replied with much decision. “How old are you, Mr. Rowe?”

“Almost twenty-one. And you?”

“Eighteen last month. I think our eyes match beautifully, don't you?”

“You are laughing at me?”

“I am not. Why do you think so?”

“Do you mean to suggest that you might ever possibly care for me?”

“I might.”

“But—but—marry me?” I muttered.

“I guess,” said Amber Eyes very seriously, “I guess I shall marry the man I care for, whoever or whatever he may be.”

“Supposing he were a bad man?”

“Supposing he were the worst man on earth!”

I uttered a little cry of astonishment and delight. I felt


  ― 126 ―
at the same time elated and depressed. I was consumed with curiosity to know more about her. I wanted to leave her and be alone, wanted to stay with her, wanted to be sure of when I should see her again. All this at once.

“Are you ever serious?” I asked.

“I was just now.”

“How many men have kissed you?” I demanded suddenly.

She blushed to her eyes. “How dare you!” she gasped.

“Here comes Shaw!” I muttered. “Answer me?”

“I shall not.”

“You will!”

“No.”

“Very well. I shall never speak to you again.”

She laughed mockingly. “You will drive me to despair.”

“Please!” said I.

She counted on her fingers. “One, two, three, four, five, six. Six, Mr. Rowe.”

“I have six new enemies,” I muttered.

“Six new enemies!” cried Shaw, who had caught the words; “how comes that?”

“We were discussing the senses,” explained Miss Denton. “You know that there is a new sense now—weight—and I have been explaining to Mr. Rowe that our senses are our worst enemies. It was hard to convince him!”

Our eyes met, and she blushed.

“Well, Rowe, have you been persuaded to come to the picnic to-morrow?” asked Shaw.

“Oh, do come!” cried Amber Eyes.

“I ought to do some work, I fear.” I wished to be persuaded.

“On Saturday! Surely, not on Saturday!” she pleaded.

Shaw looked at me keenly. “You'll come!” he said.

“Yes.”

The girl clapped her hands. “You shall be my cavalier for the day. You must, for all the other girls will be strangers to you.”

“What about Percival?” asked Shaw.

“Oh, bother Rupert!”




  ― 127 ―

Shaw laughed. “You'd better come with me into town now, Rowe. I have to do some shopping.”

“Bother your shopping!” said Amber Eyes.

“You little wretch!” he cried. “Rowe is my chum, not yours.”

“Yet,” she flashed.

For answer, Shaw slipped a hand under my arm, and drew me off. She cried out “Au revoir!” and stood waving her hand until we entered the house. After I had bidden adieu to his mother, and we had reached the street, he turned to me.

“You must look out for yourself there, Rowe.”

I flushed. “Why?”

“She is the most dangerous little flirt in Sydney. She just lives for it. She has neither heart nor conscience.”

“She won't waste much of her time on me, I think.”

“Don't make any mistake. You are new! The new broom sweeps clean, my boy.”

“Thanks for the warning, in any case,” I muttered. Thereafter we chatted on other subjects; but his advice had horribly depressed me. It was as much as I could do to hide my feelings. Shaw made me buy a flannel picnic suit, and gave me the benefit of his taste in the choice of ties, hats, and shoes, for I took this opportunity to replenish my wardrobe. Afterwards he introduced me to his tailor, and I ordered several new suits. I returned to my hotel, dreadfully in debt, and profoundly miserable. I wished to heaven that I had never set eyes on May Denton, for I did not believe that I could withstand her methods long. She had already half bewitched me.

I found a registered letter awaiting me. It was from my uncle.

“MY DEAR NEPHEW,—I have been thinking that, as this is your first quarter, and you ought to flash it a bit to get popular, you'll want more cash, for close and such things. I send you £25; but you mustn't expect more than the ordinary allowance for any other quarter. I've heard as how you've been losing a pile at cards, and had a fight to-day in the common room. I feel proud you downed your man, and the Push'll be proud of you when they hear of it,


  ― 128 ―
and you may be sure I'll let 'em know. Don't lose too much at cards, and when you play make it a square game. Cheats never thrive, and you know how we clip cheats' ears in the Push when they are found out. I'm glad you've made up to old Shaw's son; he's a real tip topper. Stick to that sort! If by any chance you want more money, don't be frightened to write for it, though it'll have to come out of my pocket. Judith sends her best love. She thinks you looked a real toff the other day when she saw you at the Uni. rec. She says you're to be true to her.

  “Your affectionate uncle,

   “D. ROWE.”

This letter upset me very much, although its enclosure was most acceptable. It proved to me that all my movements were closely watched by my uncle's spies. I felt as though I were fettered in every limb with unseen chains. As for Judith, I detested her, and loathed her message.

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