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(xv)

MISS MILLY departed, disdaining all assistance. Her gift for organization had procured from Sydney a cart for the transport of her boxes; they were light, quite certainly no heavier than when, years before, she had arrived to take charge of the house so oddly named, Why are you weeping? Opportunities for peculation, of a kind that the assigned women beheld in dreams, she had been consistent in despising. The money she earned she took; but the shining bunch of keys had been respected by her as the soldier respects his sword, used only to defend the right and to defeat barbarian onsets. She had


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prepared a final dinner, giving it pious attention. She had scourged the women for the last time with her tongue, so that each utensil shone, no shadow clouded tumbler or spoon. She paid a visit of inspection to each room; checked in each cupboard the list of contents that hung upon its door; detected a gin in an ill-timed foray and routed her; and returning to the kitchen, removed, with the sunflower-patterned slippers, the last emblem of her authority.

There was an interview with Flusky while the charged cart waited before the door. She wore black, as was her custom, with a bonnet on top of such jetted respectability that even the comment of the assigned women failed at sight of it; she bore a reticule jetted to match upon her arm, and in her right hand the keys.

“Here they are, Mr. Flusky. I hope you'll satisfy yourself that all's as it should be.”

The master of the house did not take the implements, but nodded that she should lay them down. She did so with a ceremonial stooping of the bonnet, and resumed:

“You won't find a ha'porth missing, whether it's stores or wine. It's my prayer you'll be able to say as much in a year's time—a year! A month's time. I done my duty, and there's no man nor woman nor counter-jumper——” a glance at Winter's back—“dare say contrariwise. Now, Mr. Flusky, there's the matter of my reference.”

Flusky rapped on the table for Winter's attention. The secretary found a paper, studied it a moment, and


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handed it to his employer, who took a pen which he tested upon his thumb-nail, and scored a clumsy signature below the thin elegant script. Miss Milly took the paper and read, her lips moving.

“Very handsome, I will say.” She paused; then, more harshly, proceeded: “There's one thing you've left out that might be asked me. Cause of leaving.”

“Your own good pleasure. That's all you need tell 'em.”

“I won't speak any word that's a lie. And it's a lie, Mr. Flusky, to say I leave you for my own pleasure. I've been here now five years with you, as agreeable as Christian woman could wish. It's no fault of yours, Mr. Flusky. But I won't look on at shameful things, nor I won't be hampered in my duty.”

Flusky said suddenly and strongly:

“You don't go putting that about, do you hear? I'm turning you up sweet,note sorry to see you go. None of your yarns.”

“You wait and see if it's a yarn. What you want, Mr. Flusky, excuse my saying it, but I've had it for years in mind—you want a woman about you that will see to things. What good's her ladyship——” She spoke that word mockingly, as a woman addresses a troublesome child: My lord.

She stopped as Flusky came towards her. His hands were behind his back, those hands which Mr. Adare had once in imagination seen strangling, and they were


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straining as though to escape from the invisible bond of his will. She was frightened.

“Oh, very well, I'm sure, if it suits you to have a wife the way she is. I'm not afraid of you nor anyone, the Lord's my guide, and I wish you well, Mr. Flusky. I wish you better luck than you've had, and better luck than you're looking for. And when they ask me the reason why I left this house, you can take your davy I'll tell them.”

Flusky said, this time without emphasis:

“You keep your reasons to your nabs. I'm not saying more than that to you.”

“Well, good-bye to you, Mr. Flusky. And you can depend I'll petition the Lord to open your eyes.”

She held out her hand, genteel in a black mitten. Flusky looked at it, remembered perhaps all he owed to that ill-shaped hard hand—delicate food, cleanliness and order in his household—and slowly brought his own forward to meet it. He did not look at Miss Milly's face, but Winter did, turning for a moment in his seat. In the corners of the Christian woman's small pebbly eyes tears were gathering. It was to hide these that she dragged her hand away before Flusky's grip had time to close upon it in strength, and turned to the door without more words. Flusky stared after her. Winter ventured a remark as he sometimes did—to ingratiate and fend off danger.

“Miss Milly, sir, is really sorry to be going.”

“Why quit, then?”

William Winter had his own ideas as to that, but they


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were not yet formulated; he would have welcomed a talk with Mr. Adare, a kind of synthesis of opinion concerning Miss Milly's aspirations and past conduct. He answered therefore, after hesitation:

“She has been used to consider this house her own province.”

Flusky mused, walking:

“She don't nibble,note though. So what's the objection to my wife giving a hand?”

“Well, sir, she may not have cared to see signs of recovery in Lady Henrietta. I've no proof, sir——”

That innocent expression angered Flusky.

“Proof! I've been tied up for a hundred and fifty before now, without proof. Proof, to hell!”

He picked up the bunch of keys and went along the verandah with them in his hand, to the room where lately, since the first week of Mr. Adare's arrival, his wife had been wont of an evening to sit. She was not there; but at the table whereon her needlework lay Mr. Adare was seated, his legs wreathed about a chair, very fluently composing a letter. He did not immediately hear Flusky, who stood looking in on him, watching with a sort of wonder the brisk whisks and starts of the goose-feather, hearing its cheerful sound upon the paper, a mouselike continuous cheeping. But no man can long be watched and not know it; Mr. Adare in the middle of a sentence looked up.

“You wanted me?”




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“My wife.”

“She'll be here in a minute,” Adare answered casually, dropping his glance again to the paper. He went on, in the toneless voice of one talking and writing together. “She promised a word to my sister under this cover. The Mary Patterson's sailing to-morrow.”

Flusky said nothing. He stepped into the room and sat down to wait, idly clinking the keys against his knee. Adare continued to write, strongly aware of that distracting presence. It was putting compulsion upon him to go, and he had to devote part of his attention to repelling the raid upon his will. He wrote, the sentences growing shapeless:

“—and so you see, while I am not yet in the way of making my fortune, I have at least found a temporary harbour. But ships that stay too long in harbour rot, and so I dare say it will not be long before I set out, knapsack on back, to make my fortune—” He struck the repetition out, biting his lip, and substituted—“to find El Dorado.”

Not a word further would come into his head. He dipped his pen freshly and began defiantly to write, in broken phrases, of that which he saw when he looked out into the bay.

“The darkness here is not like our darkness. There is a kind of light that comes out of cloudless night—not starlight, dark blue like Byron's seas. You cannot see by it, but you can feel shapes in it. The boats are obliged to carry lights, red, green, and white—I can see only


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red lights now, which shows the direction in which the ships must be swinging at anchor. Some fishermen's boats are moving very slowly out of the bay, one has a fire on it. That is an aboriginal's canoe, they lay a flat stone in the centre and so carry their fires from shore to shore. It is strange to see a frail shell of bark carrying the most destructive of elements so safely——”

Chink, clash of the keys against the big man's knees, rhythm pointing the strong beats of a tune as a pair of cymbals may do. Mr. Adare's ears were too strong for his eyes, they could not resist guessing at the tune, trying to fit those regular beats to music remembered. British Grenadiers? No, it was not a march; he could not get the hang of it; he resented his domination, which must endure until he had mastered the secret. Looking down again at the paper as though to read over and correct what he had written, he began in self-defence to hum a melody. The chinking beat against him for a bar or two, then slackened, stopped; his host's voice asked what he was singing. It was the first time he had defeated the big man in one of these wordless contests, and he was delighted with himself, with this proof that savage breasts might indeed be soothed, given the appropriate charm. He made answer in song, with the words belonging to that melodic phrase he had reached:

“—and around that dear ruin each wish of my heart
Shall entwine itself verdantly still.”

The door opened; he sprang up gladly.




  ― 98 ―

“Dear ruin, welcome. You're expected, we both attend you most passionately.”

Lady Henrietta, coming in, looked first at her husband; and the young man observed with a pang, not of jealousy, the pleasure that came to her eyes, seeing him sitting quietly there. Question succeeded this pleasure.

“Milly's gone.” Flusky answered the look, and held out the keys to her. She gazed at them, drawing down her mouth tragically. She repeated:

“Gone?”

And the word rang hollow, forlorn, unnecessarily despairing. Flusky again advanced the keys towards her hand, saying:

“You'll see to things in the morning.”

“But Milly mustn't go. It's not to be thought of.” Her voice began to hurry and stumble. “Milly mustn't go. I beg you'll bring her back, whatever may have happened. I beg you, Sam.”

Flusky looked at her very searchingly. She halted the stream of protest, put her hand to her throat, swallowed. Adare kept his eyes on Flusky, waiting to give the nod which would have meant: You see, I was justified, here's something like proof. But the big man would not look.

“It's her own notion. She don't want to stay. And here's her keys, you see. For you. That's as it should be.”

She accepted the keys, sinking teeth upon her lower lip as though to restrain herself forcibly from further speech.

“That's the way. Don't you worry. We'll do all


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right.” Flusky repeated his reassurance, the only words he could find to assure Adare that he believed no ill, his wife that he had confidence in her. “We'll do all right.”

“Perhaps if you paid her more money— She is used to the house, you see, and the women——” The voice relinquished its attempts at calm explanation. “I can't do without her. I must have her back, Sam.”

He said no more, but for the first time looked at Adare. His wife could read the answer in that movement of his eyes; Milly's accusations, Flusky's refusal to affront her guest by preferring the woman to him. She abandoned argument, taking the keys from his hand submissively, a symbolic acceptance of his trust. But immediately she held them out again.

“Pray won't you keep them, let me come to you when I need them? You know in such matters I'm apt to be careless.”

“Put them at your waist as Milly did. You can't lose 'em; nobody can't get 'em from you, that way.”

“No,” she murmured. “Very well.”

There was a green ribbon at her waist. She untied this now, and threaded the wide ring of the keys upon it. They hung heavily, bearing down the sash to a point on one side. She surveyed them, took a step or two in order to try the feel and sound of them, and smiled with wry tenderness at the heavy man. He beckoned her to him; she came with a lovely readiness. He put his hand at her waist and held her a little away from


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him; fingered a moment the steel ring that held the keys.

“We must get you a gold one. What's this they call it? To hang at a woman's waist——”

“An equipage?”

“Equipage, hey? Why, that's a coach and horses.”

“Not in drawing-rooms; it means keys and scissors there.”

“You talk drawing-room, I talk stable. No wonder we get to cross-purposes sometimes; what do you say, Mister Adare?”

He was moving his hand at her waist with the same gentleness and absence of mind that he might have shown rubbing a horse's nose. As he did so he looked mildly but very watchfully at the young man, who under this scrutiny could not wholly command his expression. He knew his own heart very well; he had fallen in love, taking it like a rash, three or four times since he was sixteen; he was no more in love with Lady Henrietta than with Cassiopeia in her chair. Yet he did resent the man's thick hand at her waist, for reasons which he could not at once disentangle. Flusky persisted:

“What do you say?”

“Who, I?” said the young man; and in a hurry unthinking, gave the true answer to his own perplexity. “Oh, she and I speak the same language.” He perceived at once that this truth might wound, and went on, picking up his letter. “Lady Hattie, I've left you a good four inches of paper, enough for greeting, not near enough


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for gossip. Do you write large or small? Mine, you see, is small. I thought once of being one of those individuals who write the Lord's Prayer on sixpenny bits. There is great scope for ambition in it. You begin with the Pater Noster, going on to the Creed; and end up by cramming the whole of the Epistle to the Corinthians on to his Majesty's profile——”

She was still standing near her husband, as though to defend him. She said without moving:

“Then you must write what I have to say to your sister.”

He sat down quickly and obediently, sideways on the chair, and dipped his pen.

“I can't go at speed. And I won't answer for the spelling. But my pen, such as it is, waits your command.”

She began, looking down at Flusky. He had dropped his hand from her waist, but she still stood near. The young man knew that she too was afraid lest his casual indisputable sentence might have gone home.

“My dearest friend, I may call you so still, I believe, and I do so with a full heart. Your brother will have told you something of my history and situation, but he cannot have told, for he does not know, how gratefully my husband and I look upon him, how happy we are to have him as our guest——”

The young man looked up from his scribbling to bow.

“She will not credit all this. She knows me too well. Tell her more of your own concerns.”

“—to have him as our guest while he looks about


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him in this strange new Continent. We cannot hope long to detain him, having few distractions to offer——”

“Few distractions,” Adare repeated, scribbling, and a series of pictures displayed themselves to his mind's eye; the dinner party; his hostess's entry, plunging among the notables like the figurehead of a vessel in tall seas; a human head among the nuts and raisins.

“Have you got that down?”

“I have. And what a lie it is!”

“Alethea will take my meaning.”

“Proceed. ‘Few distractions’——”

She seemed to read something of his thought, and could not again catch the thread of her own. The impulse to defend was ended, memory of the words which had set it in motion had begun to die in her mind.

“The four lines are filled up.”

“You have no notion of my capacities. I can fit in a Lord's Prayer more, at the very least.”

“Then say: I should be as happy to welcome you, my dearest Alethea, did Fate but permit it. I remember you daily and with affection. Pray write, pray think of me. The time seems so very long——”

The young man wrote, and turned, waiting.

“Long since we met, long till I hear from you——?”

“Whichever you please.” But the young man knew that she too had spoken the truth unconsciously, and that the sentence might stand without addition. “I send you from this distant country, hopes for your truest well-being, and my fondest love.”




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“That takes me to the margin. I have left this corner where you may sign.”

She took the pen he offered and wrote in slender sloping characters her full name; Henrietta Flusky. Her keys swung forward as she stooped, and rang against the wood of the desk.

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