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(xiii)

HE sat straddling the sill, and reproached her.

“Now listen, now listen. I can't have it. What are you doing, making a guy of yourself this way?”




  ― 77 ―

She had drawn away towards the bed, against one of whose posts she clung, pulling the mosquito netting over her face as if for a veil. He could hear her breathing hard, great sobbing breaths. Mr. Adare went on, savouring with a sudden little gush of amusement which knocked the romanticalness clean out of him for the moment, his position as the apostle of temperance; climbing into a room like a lunatic instead of walking in by the door, having the chief of a bottle of port inside him that had been drunk in company with a convicted murderer and a parti-coloured human head.

“You were as good as gold yesterday. Have you forgotten what you promised me? I know it's not easy. I know it gets a grip on your vitals. But why won't you take it like a Christian, at the dinner-table? Decent wine, instead of this rot-gut. What is it?” He peered at the humped black bottle. Gin; empty. “Come here to me and let me talk to you. How can I talk if you wrap yourself up like an Arabian, Lady Hester Stanhope in Arabia Felix, Lady Hattie Flusky in Australia Felix? Come along, I won't hurt you, I won't scold you. Bring me that bottle.”

He held out his hand. She obeyed as if it drew her magically, came slowly forward, her hair tumbling about her face. But Mr. Adare was determined not to be defied by the hump-shouldered shadow any longer, and he made her pause by the table to take up the bottle. This, when she came near him, he took, and with a fling of his right arm sent it out into the garden. The squawking


  ― 78 ―
of roosting birds showed that it had landed in a tree.

“Where d'you get it from?” He took her hand as he spoke, holding her steady on her feet; the hand was damp and very hot. “Henrietta, now tell me. How did you get it?”

“Found it.”

She spoke in bursts of sound.

“Found it; is that true?”

“Sometimes——” she made a wide gesture with her free hand which unbalanced her, so that she swayed against him. “Sometimes find them. Never mind.”

“Here, in this room? Outside in the garden? Where?”

She answered at random, loudly and suddenly:

“Couldn't order dinner. Sorry. Can't explain——”

At that she slipped out of his supporting arm to the floor, and began a kind of windy crying. He considered for a moment; then pulled his left leg in over the sill, and leaving her where she lay, took up the candle to survey the room. He opened cupboards and trunks. He disturbed dresses. No more bottles were to be seen. When he was certain of this, he returned to her.

“Do you pay for the stuff? How? Who takes the money?”

She shook her head; or rather, swayed her whole body above the waist from side to side. It was not a negation, but a kind of lamentation in movement, a protest against ignominy. She was quite incoherent, and he saw that it


  ― 79 ―
would not be possible to draw any answer out of her that would make sense or truth in the morning. He spoke gently, therefore, in another tone:

“We'll get you to bed. Who puts you to bed when you're like this? Milly, is it? I'll ring for her. You'll take cold.”

She caught his hand as he went past her and bowed herself to it, kissing it through the mesh of her hair. He felt tears, and patted her head awkwardly with the other hand, as though its red gold had been that of his setter bitch. She let him go when he gently pulled away, and sank against the window, her bare feet sticking out straight from her, green dressing-gown tumbled, hair covering her face, without dignity, awkward as a doll thrown down.

Adare rang the bell. So still was the night that now the sighing in the room had stopped and the birds had settled down again in their tree, he could hear the chinkle of the bell, tossing on its wire in the kitchen fifty yards away, downstairs. He could hear, too, feet coming down the stone steps, slowly; into the garden, and knew that to be Flusky.

It was perhaps two minutes before Miss Milly turned the handle of the door—vainly, for it was locked. Adare went to it, and turned the key, with a flash of self-reproach—why?—that he had not thought to do so while he waited. Only when she looked at him did he appreciate the odd figure he cut, white trousers dirtied and torn by the tree, waistcoat riding up, coat with a feather from


  ― 80 ―
one of the cloaks on its shoulder. He said, however, as strongly as he could:

“You had better get Lady Henrietta to bed.”

“I'm to put her to bed?”

“Isn't that your work? Send someone else, then.”

“Looks more like it's your work.” This was spoken very low.

“Oho!” said Mr. Adare, and caught the woman's thin arm. “What's that you said? Say that again, will you?”

She did not obey; looked at the figure on the floor, and back at him.

“None of that, I won't have any of that sort of thing.” She eyed him without speaking. “Look here, now. Where does she get the stuff from?”

“How should I know?”

“That's what I'm asking.”

“And I'm asking something else, young man. What are you doing here, and her like she is?”

Miss Milly's voice issuing its vulgar challenge made him conscious of squalor. What power had the light of the moon, how could pity itself stand, when there were voices like that in the world, pondered Mr. Adare. He said to the figure on the floor:

“Good night, Henrietta. We'll talk in the morning.”

She moved her head from side to side, a sickening motion, abandoned, weary. But she lifted her face a little, and her hair fell away from it. The light showed it shining with tears, lids and lips swollen, cheeks deadly white. From her came a warm reek of drink. Adare was


  ― 81 ―
seized by a strong repugnance; but cancelling out, as was his habit, one emotion by the show of its opposite, he stooped to the wet face and kissed its forehead. Then he went out by the door.

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