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(xiv)

FLUSKY'S room in which he sat for long periods smoking, or which he paced, slowly straddling, following the pattern in the carpet, three strides this way, two strides that, sideways, turn; this room was the barest in the house. It had the look of an office. There were no books, no flowers save when a branch of creeper, loosened by the wind, tapped on the pane. There was a cabinet, beautifully made of native woods by a carpenter who had been apprenticed to a man who learned his trade in Robert Adam's workshop. This held documents—leases and other papers with the red Government stamp; no private letters that any of his secretaries had ever been able to discover, and no money. There were no pictures, though on one wall hung a map, an outline of New South Wales as far as the discoverers to date had carried it. This map resembled the old cartographers' performances; rivers flowed and ceased abruptly, their sources unknown; hills started up and sank to a mere line of printing; whole tracts were indicated by words—Lofty Forest Ranges, Level Country with Sandy Brushes, Flat Country, Wooded Country, Country Impassable.


  ― 82 ―
Anywhere in the hinterland precious metals might be found, or new pastures, hidden by the interminably folding ranges. The men who pierced to the white spaces on the map might, like their forerunners in America and Africa, seize natural riches, but never any covetable thing made and used by man; no temple, no treasure. The blacks' tenements were frail and airy as those of birds. They made nothing but their weapons. They had so much of the wild in them that they could not even be enslaved and taught to labour. They hunted to live, and when they could not hunt they died. Their one spiritual possession, a pretty liquid language, the invaders had borrowed here and there, but the map-makers grudged space to such words as Warrawolong, Mandoorama, and preferred instead to acknowledge new discoveries under English titles: Parker's Flats, Gammon Plains, Brighton Flusky looked often at this map, observing how the English names advanced upon it. He had no scruple about dispossessing the blacks; land must belong to those willing to husband it. But though he had no scruple he had pity, as a man may have pity for a useless dog turned out to roam; thus, the aborigines' humpies were allowed to disfigure the foot of his garden. He expected nothing, neither work nor gratitude, from the wretches he harboured, they paid him no tribute, they disappeared and returned to a rhythm of their own like the tides.

Flusky stood now, looking down upon the bark sheds outside which black women sat smoking. Winter sat at a broad table. Miss Milly, nostrils pinched and white,


  ― 83 ―
stood just within the door. She was respectably dressed, her apron was spotless; below her meagre bosom two red hands were folded in all decorum. She spoke:

“It's me to answer for it all. If people go behind my back——” She brought her voice to a gentler level. “Now, you see here, Mister Flusky. It's no good, this house won't stand two giving the orders in it. You can't expect the women to put up with that. I know how to talk to them. Madam—do you suppose she could talk to old Sarah, that don't know what you say without you put it into flash language? She's a lady; well, let her sit in her parlour the way ladies ought. I'll do the work, work my hands to the bone for her. But I won't be interfered with, for all she means it well.”

Flusky did not interrupt her; walked slowly a few steps right, a few steps left.

“So I'll thank you to tell Madam.”

Flusky stopped his pacing as though confronted by a knot in the pattern too intricate to be stepped, and stood, feet well apart, staring down. His hands were behind his back, one holding a cigar. Its smoke trickled up to coil and fan about the room, bringing to the secretary, with a pang of nostalgia, two pictures clear to the least detail; a room at the Mitre in Oxford, the top of a coach in autumn weather. William Winter sighed, caught himself doing so, and bent to his work. The woman's voice insisted, growing louder as though to pierce and end Flusky's continued silence:

“I can't have it, that's flat. She makes work enough


  ― 84 ―
in other ways, excuse me referring to it, without this on top. And I'll tell you another thing.” She waited; but Flusky asked no question, and she was obliged to continue without that aid to revelation. “It won't do no harm for you to keep an eye on some of her goings-on. I'm saying nothing more, I'm a Christian woman. I give you fair warning.”

Flusky looked up at that.

“I don't say anything without I know. I can hold my tongue.” She resumed her earlier quiet way of speech: “Do you want anything more with me? I've got my dinner to see to.”

The secretary turned from his table at the window.

“Mr. Adare, sir, in the garden. He is making signs, whether he may come in.”

Flusky made an acquiescent gesture, which Winter, rising, interpreted with a beckoning hand. The young man appeared in the French windows. Miss Milly, whose expression had changed with his coming, stood her ground, neglecting the claims of dinner.

“You're engaged,” said Mr. Adare, his eyes on the woman. “I'll wait.”

“No,” said Flusky, and he too looked at the housekeeper.

“You'll speak to Madam, then,” the woman reiterated, meeting Adare's glance. “I'll do my work, but I won't have meddling. I won't stand that, not from anybody. I've got this house to see to, there's plenty of it, and I can't get through if there's meddlers about.”




  ― 85 ―

“What's all this?” Adare asked.

She ignored him, speaking to Flusky.

“So them as puts ideas into her head had better stop it, for everybody's sake. You can whistle for your dinner, if she's to order it.”

She had said her say, there was a righteous pink line along her cheek-bones, the ensign of victory, and she was going at last. Adare said suddenly, smoothly:

“Just one moment. If you please.” She opened the door. “Of course, I'll say it behind your back if you prefer.”

She shut the door and stood with her back to it, hands flat against the wood as though to press it more irrevocably shut. Her constant strife with tough and insubordinate women had taught her never to let a challenge pass.

“Very well,” said Adare. “Mr. Flusky, I'm beginning to get some notion of the situation here with regard to Lady Henrietta. Last night——”

Miss Milly could not resist that cue.

“Yes, last night, I could find something to say about last night if I chose to!”

Adare went towards her quietly, and took her nose between his thumb and finger. She scuffled with her hands to pull his grip loose. He pinched the tighter, reasoning:

“Be quiet and I won't hurt you. It's you who are hurting yourself. Quiet, now. That's better.”

“Let her alone,” Flusky ordered brusquely, advancing


  ― 86 ―
as though to come between them. “Damn all this crosstalk. Say what you've got to, both of you. Stash the row.”

Adare let the woman go at once, took a handkerchief from his tail-pocket and wiped his fingers.

“Well, you see, it's quite true (as Miss Milly so delicately suggests) that I've been meddling in your affairs, Mr. Flusky. I hinted, for instance, to your wife that she should find something to occupy her, even if it was no more than to order your food. I believe she went yesterday to the kitchen, and met some rudeness there. Last night something was troubling her; the dinner, the dinner, she kept repeating. Now, what could that have been, do you suppose? What do you think can have upset her, to do with the dinner?”

Miss Milly did not offer any speculation. She said, beating a ruffle with her fingers against the door to which she had once more retreated:

“He was there in her room last night, and the door locked. There's something for you to put in your pipe. There he was, and her with her clothes half off her. That's where she met some rudeness, as he calls it, and a good name for it too.”

Mr. Adare took no notice of this provocation, but repeated steadily:

“You had insulted her somehow. You did some offensive thing.”

“I turned her out of my kitchen, and I'd a right to do it, I'd do the same to you. It's none of your business.


  ― 87 ―
If she was at it again last night you best know why——” She was whipping herself to anger, as sometimes she whipped herself to prayer. “Yes, and so I tell Mr. Flusky, I've got better things to do than butter my tongue when his wife comes interfering, and I tell you too, Mister Nobody from Nowhere!”

“Excuse me.” That was the tremulous secretary, on an impulse rising and turning from his table. “Excuse me, I was present yesterday in the kitchen when her ladyship came in. She did receive an affront.” He hesitated. “I don't know how to describe it, no words were spoken——”

Miss Milly caught him up, triumphantly seizing her chance.

“Yes, indeed, you was there, he was carrying a load of bottles, you know where from, and in he came without waiting for a word and dumped them down in front of her. Done up in one of her own sheets, too. She knew what they was and where they come from, and she turned white like the sheet itself and went out, and that's your affront for you, if you want a grand word for a silly start.”

The pale secretary caught his breath, turning to Adare with a cry:

“Sir, you're a gentleman.”

It was Flusky who answered that, not moving, shouting from where he stood

“To hell with your talk of gentlemen! Get out of here, you. Milly, get out. I'll settle this.”




  ― 88 ―

“Settle that young fellow first,” the woman called, jutting her head forward. “I'm a Christian woman, I don't stay in any house with adulterers. You, young man! Don't cry when you burn in hell, like as you haven't had warning.” She began to pray, turning up her eyes, between which her nose glowed, still red: “Oh Lord, pay down upon the nail, after Thy manner, the wages of this man's sin. Let the fervent prayer of the righteous prevail, oh Lord, let not the wicked prosper, nor flourish as the bay tree and tree upon the wall. If Thou, oh Lord, wilt mark iniquity, shall a decent woman endure it? The wicked shall burn, we have Thy word for it, as we may take to our comfort——”

“Oh—” began Mr. Adare; but while he sought an expletive his sense of the ridiculous caught up with him, and he laughed. Miss Milly stopped her ranting, brought her eyes down to the level of his, took a great breath or two to calm the quick pulsing of her blood; then said, in another voice, the voice of the decent servant who has been put upon:

“I'm getting out of this house, Mr. Flusky. I'm free. This very night I go. And you can keep what wages is due me. I'd sooner sweep the Parramatta Factory than lend my face to iniquity.”

That, too, tickled Mr. Adare, whose imagination readily played and made pictures with words; Satan the Serpent trying on Miss Milly's face, shaking his head over the fit of it. He sat down upon the secretary's table, wiping his eyes. When he had recovered the secretary


  ― 89 ―
and the woman both were gone. Flusky remained in his place, brooding down, and making through his teeth a little sound that clearly indicated dismay.

“You're well rid,” said Adare with a jerk of his head towards the door.

“We shan't get on without her any too well,” Flusky muttered.

“No, but listen to me. She's been keeping Lady Hattie supplied.” Flusky looked up. “I do think so, indeed. A woman like that—do you suppose she couldn't choke off the supply if she put her mind to it? Last night in the room upstairs——” He was aware that any mention of that scene was uncomfortable to his host; but the air had to be cleared. “It's true that the door was locked. She'd shut herself in—you know what for. So it's as well I went up by the tree, though I grant you at the time it looked a silly thing to do. That woman Milly; you can see for yourself she hates me. Now why? Because she thinks there are things I might be finding out. Lady Hattie talks to me, you see.” He pulled himself up, and sat back upon the secretary's table. “So you see, it's a good riddance if that's so. Of course, I've no proof.”

“No,” said Flusky. “No proof of anything.”

He suddenly flung away the cigar, which all this while had been burning in his hand. There was a scampering sound on the verandah outside; he cocked his head at it.

“One of the gins. They eat tobacco, give them the chance. Wait hours for a butt.” His puzzled heavy


  ― 90 ―
expression returned. “I don't like losing Milly. She's been here years.”

“But, good God——”

“There's only your word against hers.”

“You may accept mine, I think,” said Adare dryly.

“What, because you're a gentleman? So's Winter a gentleman. You back each other up. That's what you're taught to do, ain't it? In your schools. Back each other up against outsiders.”

He broke off, turned about. Adare watched him, and to check anger told himself that the man had scars on his back, that the man was suffering now, that the man was striking out like an animal, less to cause hurt than to ease his own. He did not speak, and could not, from Flusky's expression, make any guess at what plan of behaviour the man's movements were weaving for him. Flusky stood once more.

“I'd be obliged if you'd overlook all this. It won't be too comfortable, I daresay, with Milly gone. I'd be obliged if you'd stay on.”

Adare, who had had no thought of leaving the house, nodded carelessly.

“We'll have Lady Hattie right in a month, once the house is her own. Up with the lark, and to bed with the nightingale, or whatever bird you keep in this country for an example to the slothful. Don't worry your head. Take my word for it.” His host's face still was heavy, and the young man, alarmed by any emotion which did not swim to the surface, fired a question, as


  ― 91 ―
guns are fired across water to make a drowned body rise.

“You don't take seriously what the woman said? It's so mad I didn't trouble to deny it.”

Flusky looked at him with eyes deliberately blank. He might not have heard. Adare could not repeat what he had said; it sounded more preposterous, put into words, than in the silence of his mind. He took a half-crown from his pocket, spun it once or twice and tossed it, resenting even as he did so the obligation which was on him to make movements and speeches, to show himself a target for the emancipist's weapon of stillness. Playing with this coin he managed without further talk to escape into the garden, grateful for once to find himself isolated there.

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