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(xi)

THAT large confused warm room, the kitchen of Flusky's house, was busy after its fashion at eleven of a morning, with gardeners bringing in vegetables, blacks coming to cadge bacon-rind or corks, and occasionally men from the bay with unfamiliar-shaped fish strung on reeds. It was a room drab enough to the eye, but vivid to the ear with women's talk and the ejaculations of the stove. Miss Milly reigned there. Hers was the pair of


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slippers, embroidered with life-sized sunflowers, that reposed by the door. The nail beside the dresser was hers, on which she hung her apron after carefully, and with a look which the women did not miss, removing everything its pocket might contain. Her taste had directed the embellishments—a string of paper roses in three colours, much blown by flies, a print of Moses striking the rock, and a certificate of First Communion in French, unintelligible, but admired by reason of its illuminated border.

In this kitchen Miss Milly directed the preparation and conservation of food, holding absolute sway. It was the house's first line of defence, and she was entrenched in it. Hence, with a general's eye, she watched and directed activities of all those who came and went about the house. The house-women—one petty thief, one murderess (with extenuating circumstances) and one aged female fence who gave herself airs and talked ad nauseam about her former glories—these had friends among visiting grooms and tradesmen, who, for a consideration, would procure them drink. The blacks, too, and the fishermen were channels for the coming of drink into the house. Miss Milly knew and successfully blocked all these courses of supply, so far as her underlings were concerned; they raved at her for incorruptibleness, and drank hartshorn or paraffin, making themselves sick to spite her; but she observed their convulsions unmoved. She obliged her assigned women to work, even taught them something of house-pride and order; she trained


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motts and mollishersnote to make the kind of wives a rough-and-ready new world demanded. In the single instance of her employer's wife her efficiency appeared to fail. Somehow, into that upper room the bottles still found their way, and if the flow of liquor sometimes dwindled, at other times it came in flood. Lack of money could not settle the matter in a country where raw spirit was bartered against a set of buttons, a weight of flour, or even female virtue. Miss Milly, whose powers could baffle all the manœuvres of the assigned sots, was not able to discover a tactic which should be effective against gentlewomen.

Miss Milly, then, spying her ladyship's figure straying through the garden still young with morning, went into the upper corridor and looked about her. William Winter was coming upstairs. She beckoned him sharply.

“Give me a hand here. There'll be something to carry; I don't care to get up one of the women.”

From curiosity only he obeyed, and followed her into a bedroom whose door he had often eyed, from which in the night sometimes came whimpers and talking, endless talking, by one voice only. It was a pleasant room, with a vast wooden bed. He noted that one of the upstanding pillars of this bed was scored as though a bullet had whipped past it. The untidiness of the place was fantastic. There were clothes spread about the chairs and floor, enough for a dozen women's wearing; candles everywhere, one guttering still in broad daylight; an ancient


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trunk open, all its contents tumbled. Above the smell of scent was a sweetish pothouse reek of spilled rum.

William Winter was shocked by this disorder. He did not choose to let his eyes reckon it all, but observed instead the view from the window, which looked east, towards spurs of land as yet uncleared shutting out a view of the harbour's length. He could see, down in the bay, one or two craft moving slowly upon the light morning breeze, and a dark fin travelling fast like a tiny sail blown by some ill wind of its own. He did not look at the unmade bed nor the stockings cast upon chairs; he preserved a certain gallantry in his downfall, a corner of civility where he retired when he wished to reassure himself that he was still a gentleman. Miss Milly, too, did not gape about her, but told him sharply to look and find if the madam was still in the garden. He saw the movement of a yellow dress and reported it. Miss Milly, satisfied, proceeded to a cupboard where she bade him attend her, stripping on her way a sheet from the bed.

The cupboard held unnumbered dresses; and among the dresses, hidden below their skirts, wrapped sometimes in a petticoat or a shift, were bottles, all shapes, all sizes.

“Hold this,” said Miss Milly, gripping the four corners of the sheet so that it might take a load; and she picked up the bottles quietly, one by one, talking with affability:

“I have to do this while she's out of the way. Not under madam's nose, dear no! That wouldn't do. ‘How do they come there? What d'you mean, storing


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rubbish among my things?’ That sort never admits it. Well! Only ten this week—that's having something to occupy her. Mostly there's a couple of dozen. I'm sure I wouldn't have asked you, only I thought there'd be a heavy lot.”

“What am I to do with them?”

“Ketch the blackfellow is in the kitchen. He sells them to one of the men in the bay. There's an idea—what do you say? He's making the whole of one side of his house out of bottle bottoms. It's the only good use for bottles ever I heard of. For mortar, he shaves his dog. You need hair for good mortar. Why, one of the old governors, he used to shave the convicts all over; said animals was too valuable. That's how the barracks was built, against the direct command of God. ‘Ye shall not round the corners of your head, neither mar the corners of thy beard.’ Well, better be going. Madam's not dependable, what I call; may be on us any minute.”

They went down together, the gentleman manœuvring his burden awkwardly at the turn of the stairs, and along the passage which led kitchenwards. Passing through a baize door the two simultaneously heard a voice, unfamiliar in that place, speaking clear and high. Miss Milly checked with one hand the steps of William Winter following behind her.

“And why not?” the voice was asking. “This is my house, I will not have you argue with me. Which of you is the cook?”

A murmur answered. Miss Milly, tightening her


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mouth, came forward with no uncertain step, and marched in upon the situation. Lady Henrietta stood by the table, facing a pair of women, half-frightened, half-inclined to giggle, who eyed her with most eager curiosity. She held a kitchen knife by its point, rapping out upon the table a drummer's tune with the butt of it. As Miss Milly entered she turned.

“What's the matter with these creatures? Why can't they give me an answer?”

Miss Milly made oblique reply.

“The dinner's settled. It was all fixed last night. You go and take a bit of a saunter in the garden.”

Decision swelled in one voice as it fled from the other. Lady Henrietta seemed to stoop, almost to be wheedling.

“Milly, in future pray consult me. It is for me to make the arrangements.”

One of the women set up a laugh, uneasy at witnessing an interchange of which she could make nothing. Miss Milly turned on the noisy creature with a gesture which silenced her.

“In future—we must make a plan, Milly, do you hear? We must order the work between us. I've left too much on your shoulders, you are not to blame.”

Miss Milly still stood mute.

“In future, I will come—no, that won't do—you shall come to me, in my room, and bring a slate for the orders. Every morning. At nine o'clock. That will do very well. Do you understand me? And we'll settle the dinner between us.”




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Miss Milly answered at last.

“You'll give the orders, is that it?”

“And I had better—you'll let me have the keys.”

They hung at Miss Milly's belt, a dozen of them, their steel rods shining like daggers. She had laid open a convict woman's forehead once with a knock from her bunch; as she walked they rang authoritatively, like spurs.

“Oh, the keys?”

But she did not bring up her hand to unhook them. She went instead to the door, and beckoned in William Winter. He came unwillingly, set down his burden gently. It gave an unmistakable sound for all that, the chink of glass. Lady Henrietta looked at it, and stopped the tune that she had been playing with the haft of her knife on the table. She did not ask what was in the sheet tied by its four corners, nor did Miss Milly make any remark upon it. The convict women met each other's eyes, and one put her hand over her mouth, from which an uncleanly noise came bursting. This time Miss Milly did not rate her. She looked at the bundle, at her silent mistress, and when she judged that the bundle, had done its work, with a gesture bade William Winter take it up and away. He obeyed, only once raising his eyes; that single glance had showed him so grotesque a flood of red colouring Lady Henrietta's throat that he could not bear to look again. He heard, as he went out slowly under the humiliating weight of empty bottles, the sound of her step retreating, and found it odious that so much dignity


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and grace should march away at the threat, the empty threat, he thought, making some sort of forlorn play upon words, of a harridan. It had already caused him unhappiness that Flusky's wife never spoke to him, and shrank aside as he passed her. He had almost forgotten the uninteresting female minor whose reluctance had brought him to this strait, but she was now, vicariously and unknowing, taking vengeance upon him.

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