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(xvi)

IN the morning Mr. Adare woke and looked at his watch. It showed half-past eight. At first he mistrusted it, hearing no corroborating movements below in the house—women's voices, dull encounters of chair-legs with broom-heads, the sound of feet on the verandah. But his watch was faithful. He lay awhile listening to those other moving sounds which, with the quality of the light, gave the exile daily assurance of being from home: locusts were choiring, and in the distance, among the woods of the Domain, a laughing jackass mocked the folly of those who willingly exchange old worlds for new. But Mr. Adare could not, as on an ordinary morning, enjoy the kookooburra's good humour. Like other lazy persons, he liked his days to be set in a frame of other people's methodical observance of the claims of time; to know shaving water ready and ignore it; to be made aware of breakfast by appetizing smells at the appointed hour, and turn over again in bed.

He sat up, therefore, feeling cheated by the house's


  ― 104 ―
drowsiness, and began to dress. There was no hot water outside his door. He cursed, but only as a matter of form; the water in his jug was tepid as water may well be after a night when the temperature has kept somewhere in Fahrenheit's eighties, it would serve his purpose very well. He noted, taking out a stock, that his supply of clean shirts was running low, and supposed that the laundress would soon vouchsafe others. The little mirror revealed an appearance as trig as any saunter down Dublin streets would demand. Satisfied, but inquisitive as to the morning's changed routine, he went downstairs. The secretary was coming through the baize door.

“Good day to you, Winter. What's doing?”

The pale secretary flushed, hearing himself addressed in the manner of an equal, and answered:

“I'm afraid, sir, there may be delay. The women took this chance to lie in bed a while longer.”

“While the cat's away—hell's delight of a cat, too. What was it happened that other day in the kitchen?”

“I was the instrument of that woman's rudeness, sir. I don't care to remember it.”

Pitying him, Adare let it go, and turned to another aspect of Miss Milly's departure.

“Do you suppose we shall get any work out of these creatures now she's gone? I look to you.”

“I'll do what's in my power.”

“Come with me now, then. Show me the geography.”

The bound man pushed the baize door open, standing aside to let the free man pass, and they went through.




  ― 105 ―

Miss Milly had laid down her sceptre some sixteen hours only; Mr. Adare, who had never before entered it, could hardly be aware what great changes had come already upon her dominion. Copper saucepans, scoured the day before, still shone upon one wall; the stove, having no work to do since yesterday's dinner reached a close, still kept its lustre. But the floor was littered with shoes not cleaned, among which a black woman sat, rolling her baby from knee to knee, and coifing it with a colander. A pile of vegetables in one corner had not been sorted; the mould they brought in with them had been trodden in and carried over the floor. Odds and ends of female clothing lay about. There was a smell of grease. The usual noise, too, had changed its quality. One woman sang, one shuffled feet to the tune as she scratched among her hair with a fork; and old Sal the fence, seated by the table snipping rind off bacon with a scissors, loudly instructed the black woman in such English phrases as her experience suggested might come in handy.

“Go on, you heathen covess. Alderman Lushington. Say it after me, the missus has been voting for the Alderman, say.”

They did not observe the two men until Adare spoke. He was used at home to something not unlike this kitchen, a place full of noise and irrelevant characters, unknown tongues and something very like squalor, to which, when he had slept disgracefully late, he came to wheedle tea and slices of toasted bread. He advanced,


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therefore, saying amid the uneasy silence which fell:

“Isn't there anything to eat? By the row, anyone'd think you were laying the eggs for breakfast.”

The prisoner women laughed, the black woman wrapped her baby in a cloth pulled from the table, and sidled away along the floor like a crab with her booty. The secretary slipped out of the room again, very quietly. Old Sal rose from her chair, and curtsying, assured Adare that he was just on the nick, that the breakfast would be with him if only he'd give them time——

“Time, is it?” said Mr. Adare, pulling on the vernacular like a glove, “I should have thought you'd enough of that, with what the judges at home gave you.”

The recipients of three and seven years' hard labour received this comment upon their misfortunes with hysterical approval, but old Sal possessed a sense of dignity which transportation had ripened.

“I'd have you know,” said she, “me lord, that whatever I may of done was from kindness of heart. Don't you go for to put me on a level with these, though I won't say but they're good girls—”

The other two women at once began to recite, looking at each other, and finishing on the old woman's behalf what was evidently a peroration perfectly known to them.

“——for it's my kind heart what brung about my downfall. And what I says is—when a woman follers her heart—she follers the road to ruin.”

Old Sal started up, the scissors gripped dagger-wise, to subdue them; but Adare caught her arm, and


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ceremonially offering his own, minced beside her to where the frying pans hung.

“Madam,” said he, “may I entreat you so far to forget your just grievances as to break an egg into that? And as for these other fair females—” who burst out with a fresh gust of giggling—“if they'll demean themselves to fill a kettle we shall soon get going. Now, one more word. Which of you's the cook?”

At once a clamour began, old Sal claiming that by reason of her antiquity and rectitude she had the right to be so considered, the petty thief declaring on oath that she had been the late Miss Milly's pet pupil, apt at the stove.

“I'm no Paris,” gravely said Mr. Adare, “but it rests with me to award the apple. Here's what we'll do. Take you each an egg and a rasher, and send them in to me in the dining-room fifteen minutes from now, on three dishes. As for which is which, we'll settle that, if you please, this way.” He reached up to the mantelpiece and plucked from its decoration three paper roses, red, yellow, and white, which he distributed ceremoniously. “Each put her rose with her egg on the dish; and whichever sends up a rightly fried egg—not flattened out like a yard of flannel; soft in the yellow, with a milky kind of veil—whichever sends up the best egg shall take the office of Cook. D'you understand me?”

All three ran clattering for bowls and spoons. He halted them:

“Wait. Listen. Her ladyship will be here at ten to


  ― 108 ―
give you your orders. You'll take her orders, do you hear? And curtsy. And call her my lady. And by God, if you're insolent, if I hear there's been the shadow of a shadow of impudence, I'll look to it.” He took out his watch. “To work!”

As he left the room he heard another outburst of laughter, but the sound had no malice in it. He went to the dining-room. There Winter, plate-basket in hand, was laying the table with amateurish awkwardness.

“That's a man! Is Flusky down yet?”

“Mr. Flusky was working with me at seven o'clock, sir. He's ridden into the city—some appointment.”

“Well now, that's a pity, because I'm going to bring his wife down to breakfast.” Winter ceased his laying of forks and knives to stare. “We'll make a day of it. What flowers are there in the garden? Go and pick some, we'll have them by her plate. A little bouquet. Go along now, you've put flowers together to please a woman before. The table's done.”

He ran out, and upstairs. Winter obeyed, went out into the morning sun, and gathered slowly, savouring this illusion of freedom, such tribute as the dry summer soil afforded; oleander, a stiff lily gilded with its own pollen. The birds in this garden were more brilliant than the flowers. A troop of visiting parrots surveyed him from their tree, flashing lavender wing-feathers, cocking their heads knowingly to show a spot of crimson on either cheek. They sidled and fluttered, and suddenly swung upside down, the clowns of the air, brightly


  ― 109 ―
habited, grotesque. He went towards the tree, and in alarm they were off with a great beating of wings, their colours lost as they became silhouetted against the glare of the sky. Winter returned to the assembling of his bouquet, which was stiff and scentless. He tied it, however, with a twist of clematis that gave out the faint pleasant aroma of lemon, and went indoors to lay it at the head of the table. As he stood fingering it he heard voices; and filled with shyness—for though he could forget his position talking with men, he never failed to recollect it when a woman spoke—he made his way out again by the window, and took refuge in Flusky's bare room with the map hanging on its east wall.

Adare, bringing Lady Henrietta towards the light, noted her haggardness, the shaking of her hands. She said nothing, seemed bemused. He told her to sit down, and putting the flowers in her lap as one might give a doll to quiet a restless child, went to the dark cupboard where he knew the decanters were put away. He shook the handle vainly, and turned to her.

“Those keys of yours—lend me them a moment.”

She fumbled at her waist, from which the hand fell away empty.

“Upstairs. What do you want with them? What are you doing?”

Her voice sounded almost shrewish. He pondered a moment, took out his pen-knife and manipulated the lock, which snapped back.

“I learned that trick young, on the door which guarded


  ― 110 ―
my mother's preserves. And here I am overseas, where all the pick-locks go. The criminal never escapes his due, take warning by my cruel fate——” He was pouring, while he spoke, from a decanter into a glass. She could not see, and her reiterated question had a sharp note.

“What are you doing?”

He turned away from the cupboard, coming forward with the filled glass in his hand. She, looking past him, gave a shriek and sprang up, pointing and retreating. He remembered. The ugly head lay visible, tousled and fallen sideways, as though the decanters had somehow contrived to exercise their dominion even upon death. Adare banged to the cupboard door with his left hand and held it so, while he extended to her steadily, as a man holds food to a nervous horse, the glass filled with brown liquor.

“It's only the trophy—can't hurt you. Here, drink this up, down, whichever way pleases you best. That's it. Now you're steady.”

She drank the brandy without gasping, gave a shudder, and set the glass clumsily down as she seated herself. She said, with a half-laugh:

“That thing—I see it sometimes in the night. It opens its eyes at me then. Sam paid ten pounds for it.”

“It's hardly a mantel ornament, indeed. Are you better? Isn't that what you wanted?” She looked at the empty glass, at him; then covered her face with her hands. He talked on. “Of course it is. You can't do without


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all at once. It's like a man with a nagging wife, he feels empty for a while when she dies, for all he's glad to be quit of her. A drop more?” He surveyed her thoughtfully. “I'd say not. You shall have a dram about twelve, if you eat your breakfast like a good goddess.”

“Ah, don't, Charles!”

“I'm not laughing. I grant I never saw a goddess go; but she might do worse than walk the way you do, when you're in command. Are you ready?” His voice promised entertainment. “I'm going to ring for our breakfast.”

She spoke with petulance again.

“The women—Milly's gone. They won't know, they can't do anything.”

“Wait!”

He listened. From the servants' quarters clamouring voices arose, wakened by the bell's thin sound. Adare sat down in his place, and primly, settling his stock, awaited the entry of the kitchen Graces.

Old Sal it was who first marched in, winking above a plated dish-cover. She sketched a curtsy to the lady of the house, set down her burden before the young man and stood back hands on hips, head cocked to challenge. The younger women deposited their dish-covers to right and left of old Sal's, and stood back too, menacing each other with glances. One spied the empty glass by the lady's place, and loudly sniffed; but the moment was too solemn for this impertinence to afford her full satisfaction.




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Lady Henrietta looked astonished, then angry, as they ranged themselves.

“What do you all do, trooping in like so many corporals?”

But Mr. Adare gravely rebuked her with his left hand; his right was lifting the dish-covers. This done, he drew back, contemplating with a connoisseur's eye the three fried eggs thus revealed, each nesting upon its concomitant bacon, each adorned in carnival manner with a tattered paper rose.

“Excuse the creatures. They had their reasons for coming all together.” He looked up from the eggs. “The roses, you see, might have had the misfortune to get shifted about, unless each one escorted her own.”

Lady Henrietta, wholly uncomprehending, gazed at him, at the three platters, and at the three faces behind the young man's shoulder. He, meanwhile, was delivering judgment in detail.

“Yellow rose. Her effort lacks shapeliness. It has a tendency to sprawl; an uncontrolled and (pardon the phrase) blowsy egg. No prize for Yellow Rose. White, now; let me see. Round enough, the veil drawn delicately over the yellow, which yet, I fear——” He took a fork and lunged with it; no trickle of yolk rewarded him. “Ah! The unforgivable sin, the stony-hearted egg. Failed, White Rose. Alas for York! Let's see what Lancaster can do.” He raised the third cover, sat back, surveyed. “Lancaster promises well. All the qualities are there; this egg is a very pretty production to the eye.


  ― 113 ―
Now for the test.” He plunged his fork; the yolk ran out in a copious flow. “Aha! Lancaster has it—You, what's your name?”

Above the noise that greeted this decision, the voice of the murderess (with extenuating circumstances) could be heard ardently crying:

“Me, Mister! Flo, Mister! It's me the red 'un!”

He hushed them down, beckoned Red Rose forward, and presented her to Lady Henrietta in form.

“Allow me to suggest for your ladyship's consideration this candidate for the high position of cook-in-ordinary to your ladyship. She will do as much as she's made to. She is a bit of a rascal, is Flo. I humbly submit that she has passed with credit a strict examination; not appearing now to great advantage, by reason of a smutty nose and intellects astray, but a willing sort of miscreant, I'd say.”

The willing miscreant dropped a curtsy, according to the implications of that traditional verb, with its suggestion of inadvertence and clumsiness. Lady Henrietta, for the moment steadied by brandy, could laugh, and summon enough control to dismiss the women. When the three had passed, wrangling, out of hearing, she said, suddenly dejected:

“I can't. I haven't the power any longer.”

“Lord, but I'll deal with them! I'm Grand Vizier to your Sultana.”

“No, no.”

“What's the matter?”

She answered dully:




  ― 114 ―

“I have been coming to life. It is unbearable. I can't face it.” She struck her hand on the flowers, again and again, seeming to take pleasure in belabouring their beauty. “I am useless. Even if I overcome myself I'm useless. The best thing I can do is to die and have done.”

“Everyone's in the dumps the morning after. I'll give you another dram.”

But she shook her head, and began to torment the flowers between her hands.

“You don't understand me. I'm thinking of him. I've done him wicked wrong, so many, many times. Wrong to love him, wrong to marry him. I was my brother's murderer, and he paid for it.” She halted. “No children.” The voice rose again strongly. “In this new country I make him a laughing-stock. The only thing I can do now, the best thing I can do, is to die.”

“You're the apple of his eye, and you know it,” said Adare, out of his depth.

“If I died, he could marry the sort of woman—Milly would do. Poor Milly, with her religion! That's why she put the bottles in my room.” She laughed. “Couldn't marry him, you see, with me in the way. Couldn't take a pistol and finish me outright, that would be sinful. So she set about it this way—killing no murder. For years.” She shook her head. “But I'm very strong, you see. And then you came, and now Milly's had to go away. All wasted.”

“Well, by God!” Adare was standing, flushed, unbelieving. “You knew she was trying to take your


  ― 115 ―
place, killing you, giving you drink. You knew what she was at!”

She found his incredulity absurdly out of proportion.

“The only queer thing was her doing it as a Christian. She often said that. A Christian woman. Ha!”

Her laughter was brief. Adare, the morning's gaiety wholly subdued, stared at her. The eggs, the bouquet, alike were neglected. He was at a loss. She spoke rationally and kindly, leaning towards him, the civil hostess explaining.

“So now you see how it is. I am obliged to you, I like you very dearly. It is beautiful, what you have been trying to do for me. But you only hurt me and hurt him. It is not any use.”

“Are you saying I must go away?”

She seemed, at that, to come out of her bitterness as from a trance. Her two hands were stretched to him:

“Charles, Charles! It's only because it can't last, having you here, and I can't bear it alone.”

That cry of weakness gave him the ascendancy again. He came to her chair and knelt by it, his face very serious.

“Listen. I am no more in love with you than with Britannia on the penny. You know that.”

“I know that.”

“Nor you with me.”

“Nor I with you.”

“But I treasure you, Lord knows why. Perhaps because I've never been able to write poetry. I've wanted to, Lord knows. There's something in me—but


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it can't get out that way. Nor by my hands. It looks as though I've had to come half across the world to find the way out, my way to beauty. You're the only chance I'll ever have to make a lovely thing. If I can give you back——”

She said, harshly interrupting:

“It's like giving a gold coin to a man crying for water in the bush. I'm useless, useless.”

The young man lightly shook both her arms, on which he had laid his hands.

“You'd die for that man.”

She cried out:

“Oh God, I would! Only I haven't courage to go quickly.”

“But the whole thing is to live,” said Adare loudly, holding her arms: “To live!”

“I'm not strong enough. I can't, Charles, I can't indeed.”

“I won't let you. I won't have you take your beauty, your fineness, and lay it away underground, like the man in the Gospel. I won't let you break yourself, and that poor devil that the sun rises out of your bosom for.”

“Too long! Too wretched!”

“I'm here, I'll stay, I'll help. Day by day, the small things—do you remember the list of duties I wrote for you? Ah, don't, for God's sake, give in, don't let it all go!”

She was silent, eyes closed, head drooping. He laid his forehead on her knees, still murmuring like a lover: “Don't, don't, my dear!”




  ― 117 ―

She gave a deep quick sigh, and put a hand under his chin, lifting his face. They looked at each other through tears. She spoke, gently now, and with a wondering tilt in her voice:

“You and I are nothing to each other. How can you do so much?”

“Friends. That's what you've been needing. Love's too highfalutin for this kind of job, too high-stepping; the chaser in the dray.”

“I can say things to you that he would not understand. But for him I'd die, and for you——”

“Darling woman, you're a beauty and a queer one, something out of a fairy hill. But my heart doesn't jump to be like this, holding you. I don't go blind with you.”

They were silent, so close that each could see the tears, feel the warmth of the other. She spoke:

“Help me. I'll try.”

“You'll try. You swear? Cross your heart?”

She made a little gesture with the point of her thumb upon her breast.

“Cross my heart.”

He got up, blew her a kiss, and to ease the tension of their spirits began laughing at himself and her.

Amor vincit omnia. The poets again. Fools, how little they know! All love could do for you was to fill you up with gin. Down with love, and let's have breakfast. Eheu, the prize egg's cold!”

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