“ ‘——I THINK I can picture you, not working in any way, for that is against your avowed principles, but most pertinaciously and tirelessly watching others do so. Since there has not been time as yet for any letter to arrive, I amuse myself very comfortably, seeing you in this situation or that, without any danger of imagination stumbling over truth. Have you seen any black men? Do they make anything of interest that you could send home? It is tiresome having to abide the bragging of Mrs. Synnott, with a trumpery ensign nephew out in the East, who sends shawls and ivory elephants.

“ ‘When will this scrawl arrive, I wonder? Perhaps it

  ― 53 ―
may not reach you at all. The ship may go down, or be taken by pirates, who will light their smelly pipes with the best I can do in the way of literary composition. It is not very well worth while writing beautifully for pirates, you will agree, and so I wander about over the paper, on which you may find, I shall be surprised if you do not, the print of a dog's paw here and there. They, Bess and Punch, will come in, and they scramble about so, there is no keeping them in their places. Bess has had a litter since you went away, two dog-puppies and three others. There was the usual talk of drowning, but it ended as usual, with Bess enthroned under the kitchen dresser, and everyone coming to pay respects to the full number of puppies.

“ ‘What else? Three or four of the women in the village are praying for you, and there was talk of a candle being set up by old Philo Regan. I told her it would do a Protestant no good, she had better keep it for St. Anthony, to find her calf that strayed away. She said, whether a creature went straying to Australia or only into the next parish, it was all one in God's eye, so you may share the petition of the candle between you.

“ ‘Dear brother, dear Charles, to be serious for a moment, you are indeed very far away from us, and I can't always think with composure of the many months that must pass before you are home again here. Please write. It is not that which you do most easily, I know it, but say to yourself that two poor silly women are fond of you, and will not be easy until they have assurance that you are safe

  ― 54 ―
and happy. I will say it again, in red ink if I can find any. Please write. And again, WRITE, in capitals, so that you, who once complained of my “feathery fist,” cannot but make that one word out.’ ”

Mr. Adare paused a moment in his reading.

“And then she signs her name and her love. And that's the end.”

“Thank you,” said the red-haired woman. She did not ask to see the letter, but Mr. Adare caught her looking at it, not inquisitively, and gave it into her hand. She weighed it between her fingers as though quite unused to handling such things, read the superscription, smiled, and dropped her hands above it in her lap, where embroidery silks, much faded, lay heaped.

“And so, have you written to your sister?”

“Not yet. The ship is only now in, I've not had the letter an hour.”

“When you do answer—I have no right to ask this, no right to conjecture what you may do, or forbid it—I hope you will not speak of me.”

“Not——? But it is the only thing that will interest her, my one good reason for writing. Why do you forbid it?”

Lady Henrietta did not answer, but began again to load her blunted needle and draw the silk in and out, making knots for the fleeces of a canvas flock. She spoke away from the previous matter, looking sideways at her knot as it flattened:

“This is all I remember of all my old governess taught

  ― 55 ―
me. Shakespeare, the History of England by Question and Answer—all gone, except this.”

“Your sheep will thrive,” said Mr. Adare, following the needle and the cue. “Milton fed his, you recollect, on knot-grass dew-besprent, and they did well, or so he says. But listen to me; why mustn't I write about you to Alethea?”

She said in a low voice:

“The night you first came to this house, how long ago? Ten days only? That night—I don't clearly recollect it. But I know, because of that night, and because of certain other things, other happenings—”

She stopped. Adare said, sympathetically and easily:

“You mean, because you were drunk.”

She stood up at that; the silks and scissors slipped from her knee. The young man unconsciously took a step back, afraid lest she had been wounded by his bluntness, but she followed, putting out her hands to him.

“Do you know that's the first open word that's been said? He never speaks. He won't let them speak, or look, not even Milly. I get the bottles. When they're empty I hide them until there's a pile, and then, one day, they're gone. Nobody speaks of them. I do something outrageous, come down half-naked, scream—nobody speaks.” She gripped his hands more tightly. “That night, how did I appear? Was I—was I decent?”

“You were covered,” Adare answered. “Don't trouble for that. Only you were not quite, we'll say, the glass of fashion.”

  ― 56 ―

“Thank God for it. And for you, that gives me the words of comfort I've needed. ‘You were drunk.’ My dear, you'll never know how I've longed to hear a human creature's voice just saying that.”

They stood together. Suddenly Adare began to laugh. She followed the lead a moment later, rocking, half-weeping. Flusky came out on to the verandah from his room astonished at the sound, and stood in the long window of the drawing-room wondering at the laughers, who confronted each other helplessly, their feet upon the fallen silks, and regarded by the round eyes of a scissors that had dropped point downwards to stick upright out of the floor. His wife saw him first, and still catching her breath came towards and past him. As she reached his side she held his arm for an instant and leaned her cheek against it; then went out, swiftly and majestically striding, towards the shades of the garden. Adare remained. Without self-consciousness he wiped his damp eyes, and set about picking up the silks.

“What's funny?” Flusky asked him.

“I don't know,” said Adare; for with all his impudence he could hardly confide to this man, who himself never referred to it, the subject of the jest. “Just something or other made the pair of us laugh.”

Flusky said nothing, noting the embroidery, which for ten years he had not seen in his wife's hands. He turned away.