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  ― 119 ―

Book II.

And Dido, that suffered for love of Eneas, had done as much for lacke of other Companie. This is the Natur of women: to goe to and fro, and knit up existence as they doe Stockings, a little upon a little. By Fables may a man take them, by steel can he not holde them, in them opposites Rime, their Commandments are writ upon Sand, not tables of Stone. For woman being conceiued in a Sleepe (Adam's I meane) is as dreames uneasie. …

—A Limbo For Ladies.




  ― 121 ―

(i)

SIR RICHARD BOURKE, Governor of New South Wales, driving with two aides-de-camp on the evening of Patrick's Day, 1832, looked about Lower George Street, pondering:

“Too many drink-shops still. See about it, next time the question of licensing comes up before the Council. Plenty of fingers in that fire; dangerous to nip 'em. That's what did for Bligh.”

The senior aide-de-camp, observing His Excellency's frown, took a sighting shot at its cause.

“I hear at the Club, sir, that Mr. Adare has been busy. He's prime mover of this ball, I understand.”

“Young Adare?” The Governor recalled his thoughts.

“Well, sir, as an Irishman, naturally. St. Patrick, you know, ha! They don't often have this sort of festivity here——”

The gold-laced Captain spoke the truth. Sydney had in the past honoured Saints George and Andrew thus primitively by dancing; but St. Patrick, as a Papistical saint, had been neglected until the presence of an Irishman in Government House could lend him some tinge of the Established Church, and so entitle him to the ritual tribute.




  ― 122 ―

The matter once decided, two committees had been formed. The ladies, after a succession of tea-parties, produced a strongly-worded resolution to the effect that shamrocks made of paper should be employed in the decoration of the hall. The gentlemen, among whom Mr. Adare was foremost, in the course of a single meeting, determined upon the best supper money could buy, and the band of His Majesty's 4th Regiment of Foot to set the dancers going.

These essentials thus driven like pegs into the social consciousness of the city, further decision and determinations were hung upon them; as, the price and colour of tickets, the place of assembly (Temperance Hall), the hour, and the nature of dances to be rendered by the band. In the matter of this last, a jury of matrons decided unanimously that the licentious waltz must not defile their programme. Country dances were to be the order of the evening, with a quadrille or two by way of proof that Antipodean school mistresses could turn out as genteel and well-drilled young ladies as any seminary at home. This done, the tickets were issued at two guineas a head, and began to fly into the farthest corners of the colony, even to those outer darknesses beyond the ranges registered upon Mr. Flusky's map. Delicate spinsters contemplated without dismay a journey of two hundred miles in a cart, their finery stowed under the seat. Gentlemen, damning the whole affair as nonsense, dipped in their pockets to further it. Clergymen, benevolently smiling, approved “an innocent festivity,


  ― 123 ―
such as cannot fail to weld together in a spirit of fellowship the better elements of our society.” Hotel-keepers along the roads doubled their prices for bait and beds. All this bustle lay behind the aide-de-camp's innocent statement that Sydney did not often enjoy such a festivity.

The Governor broke in upon his attendant's polite babble.

“Do you hear anything more of young Adare? He has not been to see me. I suppose he is in no difficulties yet?”

“Well, sir, as to hearing—— Of course, things are said, but I don't pay attention to gossip.”

“You're wrong,” said the Governor briefly. “There's a lot to be learned from gossip. Napoleon thought so.”

“Indeed, sir?” The Captain risked a laugh, but sobered at once, perceiving no echo from His Excellency. “Well, the fact is, there's a story, my wife got hold of it; a story that the young man is rather too warmly interested in a certain quarter.”

“Flusky's wife?”

“They say so, sir. I don't heed that sort of thing——” He broke off, swallowing the disclaimer. “Our house-keeper, you see, was in Flusky's service, and left the house by reason of this—ah—intimacy. I don't care for the woman, myself; Milly is her name. However, my wife vouches for her being sober, and she can certainly cook.”

“What's Flusky's attitude, did you learn?”

“Oh, calm, very calm. Won't hear anything against


  ― 124 ―
either his wife or Adare. So the woman states.”

“Adare's to be here to-night, you say?”

“One of the committee-men, sir. Sure to be present.”

The Governor resumed his reckoning of the number of grog-shops as the coachman sedately, with no undue use of the whip, made for Temperance Hall.

Temperance Hall was situated at the farther end of George Street, a St. Anthony of buildings beset by public-houses. Eight or nine lay within that radius known to the freer-spoken colonists as spitting distance, and for perhaps three hundred and sixty days in the year they held insolent triumphing sway, regarding the Hall as their wash-pot, and turning out swarms of drunkards to cling about its very pillars. But on the evening of Patrick's Day the Hall eclipsed them. Lights danced in its windows, bunting adorned its doors; and from the hour of seven-thirty vehicles rolled towards it, chariots, gigs, britzkas, four-wheeled chaises, carriages closed and open, raising an impressive dust, and affording the public-house supporters scope for scornful comment:

“Look at she, with the feathers in her hair! Scratch cockie! Snow'snote cheap to-day. Watch the old girl toddle, she'd tip over if anyone give her a shove. Hooray for the General, look at his whiskers! He rubs lag's fat on 'em at night.”

They had, however, this population of sub-respectables, a cheer for His Excellency Sir Richard Bourke when he appeared in his carriage with outriders.




  ― 125 ―

“Bite the land sharks, me lord. Trial by jury, and to hell with the mili-tairy! A leg-up for lags!”

Sir Richard acknowledged these cries civilly, a hand to his hat. He wore evening dress, but uniforms swarmed about him and lent his most ordinary movements, of a gentleman entering upon an evening's entertainment, something of the precision and glitter of the barrack square. He was received by the Committee's six or seven prosperous gentlemen, ten or a dozen ladies in their extravagant best. He shook hands with them all; the clasp offered to Mr. Adare was neither more nor less hearty than that awarded to his coadjutors, but there was a brief exchange of words:

“Charles, I hope you're well.”

“Never better, sir.”

“A most successful function, judged by numbers.”

“And beauty, sir?”

“I have not yet looked about me.”

“Wait awhile,” said Mr. Adare, smiling. The Governor nodded, and passed on to the dais festooned with flags—no rebel Irish green among them, but someone had contrived a blue-painted shield with a harp upon it, which served as a brooch to hold the draperies of the platform together here and there. He bowed to those known faces in the crowd that made way for him as he walked, noting the while in his administrator's mind:

“Must be a thousand people present. Too much flimsy stuff, too near the lamps. However, plenty of ground-floor windows. A great mix. Many hundreds


  ― 126 ―
of strange faces and, by Jove, strange get-ups too. All classes represented. Don't care for shaking hands with pickpockets and resurrection men, all the same. Prejudice, that. Got to end. It will take time, though.”

He was on the platform by now. The military band did its duty by the National Anthem: and all the travelled young ladies, all the exiled regimental springs; all the publicans and their wives; all the landowners, sheepfarmers, surveyors, physicians and their wives; all the ironmongers, haberdashers, undertakers and their wives; all the supervisors of the Convict Establishment, ticket-of-leave men, emancipists and their wives, formed up in line with a view to experiencing the joys of rapid motion under his Excellency's patronage and eye.

They danced to tunes a year or so out of date, with delightful names borrowed from operas and pantomimes: Love's Frailties, A Day up the River, The Matron of Palermo. Hands four round, went the rustic ladies and gentlemen, bustled by more knowledgeable town dancers, back again, down the middle, up again. The experts, clustering together in a set, attempted more difficult fantasies; top lady and gentleman cross over with right hand, back again with left hand, balaneza la poule, and poussette to place. Corinthian skirts with three and four tiers of ornament swung round the sterner Doric of masculine trousers. There was a pretty chinking of military trappings. Heads, as they bobbed and twirled, revealed ringlets, short hair oiled and brushed to the rich polish of a boot, wax flowers jerking briskly upon


  ― 127 ―
springs, natural flowers drooping, ribbons perked into stiff bows, carved combs, and an occasional Prince of Wales erection of feathers. The men's heavy-coloured coats, red, blue, black, stood ranked at times as though to overthrow the muslins; these yielded, fluttered, stooped to conquer, and at length triumphantly advanced upon the uniforms, with which they mingled, obscuring them from view. The sound of the dancers was in itself a whole orchestra; shuffle and thud of feet for drums, violins of voices humming the air, piano-like rattle of speech, with now and then a laugh shrilling out high as a piccolo. The lamps in their holders jumped and flickered, paper shamrocks with their trembling marked the rhythms; gusts of noise, gusts of movement enlivened and belied the character of Sydney's Temperance Hall.

His Excellency was determined not to dance. He possessed a leg which served him faithfully on such occasions, a notorious leg, part of whose calf had been torn away by a bullet in Spain. It did not affect his walk even in rheumatic weather, but he permitted it to debar him from ball-room pleasures, smiling while he reflected that the philosopher may find cause for satisfaction even in an ounce of French lead. The ladies of the Committee, to whom those subtle Mercuries, the aides-de-camp, had made the Governor's disability known, were unanimous in worded pity for it, and unanimous in their inner silent comments: It will make things easier, no unpleasant discrimination, better none of us than a few. One problem remained, and this they pondered, while they


  ― 128 ―
balanced their fans, and settled their laces, and furtively shook their heads to ascertain that the three-piled decorations were still in place; glancing at each other, and totting up those noughts added to nought which made the sum of precedence. Who should have the honour of tucking a gloved hand within his Excellency's bent arm on the way to the board? Above their preoccupation they talked with him, the stately wives, with a fine assumption of carelessness, and echoes of the far great world.

“Really almost gay. Though to one who remembers the social gatherings of London and the Continent——”

“It is our sons, your Excellency, who most feel the lack of superior schools. Do pray, for the sake of us poor mothers, establish something. We cannot expect an Eton here in the wilds——”

“The worst of a new country, your Excellency, all the gentlemen have to work. They have not leisure to be elegant.”

“What is the Court news, your Excellency? Is it a fact that the Princess Victoria still plays with her dolls?”

Dear ladies, commented His Excellency's thoughts, dear women, rather; why can't you let the social aspects alone? Why must you carry all the old prejudices and all the old petticoats round your legs in this new country? You are necessary, you are model wives and mothers, but you are deuced ineffectual as fine ladies. I wonder which of these is the creature who has got Charles into her toils? Hard to tell; there's none drunk that I can see.




  ― 129 ―

“—thank you, I am very well entertained, madam, I assure you. I don't move in Court circles to any extent. A soldier, you know——”

Tirelessly below the dais the dancers manœuvred. The clock at the end of the hall, accustomed to record with lagging hand the progress of temperance eloquence, moved briskly towards the hour of supper. The ladies eyed it and each other, calculating chances, and precedence, which in the best of all possible worlds is victorious over chance. Their thoughts reckoned up the other female occupants of the dais, alike and fateful as cherry-stones; Mrs. Advocate-Judge, Mrs. Colonel-Commanding, Mrs. Admiral, Pothecary, Ploughboy, Thief. If his Excellency was aware of the silent contest for his favour he gave no sign, but sat jigging a foot to the twelfth repetition of Le Garçon Volage.

The tune was slackening, amid clapping of hands, curtsies, and descending ohs and ahs of regret from the dancers. The Governor's fingers pressed the arms of his chair, he was rising, when at his ear sounded the voice of his sixth cousin.

“I don't know the etiquette, which of you I present to the other. I think, though, you're not altogether strangers.”

Sir Richard stood, with an instant but unspoken appreciation of the young man's impudence in bringing the woman along as though he were her husband. Lady Henrietta's red coronet of hair drooped to the representative of the King. Over it he saw for an instant the


  ― 130 ―
faces of the ladies whose consequence was legitimate and unsullied, and heard himself saying, while his eye assessed her beauty and the consternation that it was causing:

“We have met already, indeed, but it was long ago.”

She answered easily:

“That was in Ireland. There was a bay horse, Cuirassier—but you may not remember.”

“A fine performer! I could never forget Cuirassier.”

“—you had him from my father. None of us could hold him, he was vicious too. We exchanged, do you recollect? And you by some magic made him into a hunter.”

“By Jove!”

Sir Richard's memory was darting here and there, proffering recollections garnered by three senses. A red-haired girl in a close habit, riding with frantic courage and no judgment at all; the smell of steam rising from Cuirassier's shoulders as he pulled up at the end of a gallop; a sound of talking in the open air, subdued, so that no signal from hounds might be missed. The creature! ejaculated the voice of his mind; and whether that expression of admiration might apply to the woman or the beast, he did not at the moment know.

“By Jove, he put me to some trouble. Broke a bone or two. Do you ride still?”

“There is no great inducement in the summer.”

“True. Dust, no shade—In the winter, though, something might be done. There was a foxhound pack once,


  ― 131 ―
they tell me, when the 73rd were here. I don't know about foxes, but there are dingoes enough——”

The clock's hand was pointing reproachfully to an hour ten minutes after supper-time. An aide-de-camp charged with the mission of voicing public impatience delivered himself tactfully:

“Supper, sir, is ready. When you choose, of course.”

His Excellency, so careful of precedent, so discriminatingly aware of public opinion, permitted himself for a moment to appear absent. With the most natural air, talking as though he had not finished what he had to say, he offered Lady Henrietta his arm. So smoothly was the movement executed that the dispossessed ladies supposed themselves beholders of a genuine inadvertence, and with humorous tolerance and cluckings accepted undistinguished customary arms to the supper-room. Only a naval wife, catching Mr. Adare and halting him on the way to supper as a rock may halt a leaf on a stream, loudly put the question they all had in mind:

“Is it true that she's the daughter of an earl?”

For this was the crux. Beauty, after the manner of their kind, they could forgive to no woman; but drinking and a convict husband, with accompanying legends of indecent exposure and brawls—these in a genuine ladyship might pass. Other wives paused, intent to hear the answer.

Mr. Adare reassured them. Genuine old title, Irish, eccentric; genuine old castle, full of shrieks as Otranto; genuine lordly and lunatic relatives all over the


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West of Ireland. No deception, ladies and gentlemen.

The wives conferred, deferred, reached a conclusion.

“An earl's daughter, you know, keeps her precedence. One would not wish, in this far corner of the globe, to stand upon ceremony. Still, one is aware, one knows one's world, one is only too happy, one understands how to behave.”

Thus the more impulsive and milder ladies. But the naval wife, in the best bluff tradition of her service-by-marriage, came out plump with:

“All very well, but I don't see at all why these people should be above behaviour. My husband was at Palermo as a lieutenant, he's seen Lady Hamilton's many the time come aboard half-naked, and half-seas over too. Why should the wretches have all the privileges?”

Mr. Adare needed only to laugh. The naval broadside had not done much damage, as he perceived. Ladies, ladies! He was profoundly happy; more than one pair of eyes noted and stored the fact away, matter for gossip at some convenient time. He was too much for them. He was on top of this small world as a man might be who has written an unforgettable word, or struck an eternal posture out of marble. The ladies could not tell what energy moved him, but were obedient to it; their thoughts dropped from moral heights to the suppertable, as eagles readily drop from their palaces of cloud to a dead sheep fallen under a bush. They were practical women, as became the wives of pioneers, and to the practical mind there is no lasting sustenance in the chameleon's dish.




  ― 133 ―

Adare, needing solitude, found an excuse to depart out of the radius of the ladies' smiles. He went through a door, up a stair, very dark and leading he knew not where, but which had a kind of ventilator pierced in that wall giving upon the supper-room. By this ventilator he stood, peering down, seeking Lady Henrietta with his eyes, and soon finding her. She sat on the Governor's right hand in a dress the colour of a Colmar grape, purple, but having a silvery bloom in the folds of it. He had seen that dress fitted, had advised upon it, she standing laughing, and holding a shawl modestly about her white shoulders. Flusky coming in had seen them thus, and after a moment's contemplation had said something about jewels; how about rubies? They both cried out No, no, with one voice, while the sewing-woman squatting on the floor looked up astonished, muted by her denture of pins. Flusky had said nothing, abruptly going out. Adare recalled now something ominous in that sudden turn, but was not overtaken by any compunction. The man was free to do as he chose, the man might have stayed and laughed with them, and welcome. He had not chosen. He was absent to-night. He is missing something, thought the young man at his peephole, wistfully, that you'd think any husband would give his ears for. Look at her, look at her, my lovely creature that I made out of a drinky slattern, a boozy frowsy poor slut with no friend but her bottle of gin.

She was the only woman wearing no jewels; the only woman with her hair low and smooth on her neck; the


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only woman who could turn her hands and her head divinely, like the movements of a swan. She bent to the Governor's voice, and it was the stoop of a poplar before wind. She handled her glass, and he thought of that legend of the Queen of Scots, how wine could be seen passing down her throat, it was so white. Her voice he could not hear, but it sang in his mind, a little husky, monotonous and sweet.

All at once he felt limp, as though virtue had gone out of him, and sat down on the stairs with a quick sigh. Finished, the work of art. What of the artist, who the hell cares for him, left empty and purposeless, forlorn?

(ii)

FORLORN! A sound, chiming with that word in his thought, brought him back again to his sole self. It was a movement, a rustle. He said, smoothing hair dishevelled by his own plunged fingers, instinctively tweaking down his waistcoat in the dark:

“Who's that, who's there?”

The sound shifted upwards, a stair creaked. He moved after, stretching his hand before him into darkness, and closed it round an ankle; closed it completely, thumb and finger-tip just meeting. A good beginning anyway, thought the young man, coming out of his melancholy with the rush proper to his age; let us discover more.




  ― 135 ―

“Don't be frightened. Why are you here? This is a silk stocking, it ought to be under one of the tables.”

The unseen person gave a brief laugh, but pulled in her breath after it. He went on, fingering the flounces of the dress:

“Muslin. Worked in sprigs. What will it look like after these stairs? How could you use a poor muslin so?”

The unknown retreated a step higher, pulling her dress out of his grasp, and fairly ran upwards, her slippers hardly sounding, but all the petticoats and their frills swishing like the last lap of a wave spreading its lace on a beach. He followed, two stairs at a time, and caught her as she wrestled with a door-handle. His fingers closed over hers, which were cool and rough. He had not expected that roughness, it checked him a little, so that she was able to twist the door open without further interference; when she tried to bang it, however, his foot was in the way.

He looked with interest at his quarry. An oil-lamp swung in the centre of the room—it was an office, fly-blown, its sole beauty the square of window framing stars—and this showed a young girl, short, frail, her dark hair atrociously sown with gum flowers, looking at him resentfully. She had a small pointed face like an animal, much too wide between the eyes, the mouth much too large; she had been crying.

“What did I tell you?” said he, nodding at her flounces. “You're all cobwebs. Mab could dress Moth, Mustardseed, her whole court off you.”




  ― 136 ―

The unknown at this for the first time broke silence with a solitary syllable, disconcerting him:

“Who?”

“The fairy queen; Titania, Mab. Don't they have fairies in this country?”

She looked at him uncomprehending.

“What business have you got sneaking after me?”

Poor child, thought Adare. The voice was rough as her hands when it could be heard in a whole sentence. He said:

“I thought perhaps I might help you——”

“Bender!” interrupted the girl with entire scorn. He could interpret this. The three assigned women, that odd team of harpies which he drove by alternating flattery with boxes on the ear, constantly used the expression to imply dissent or incredulity. Oh yes, I'll make haste—bender. We'll all marry lords—bender.

“I did, though,” he repeated. “You were crying, weren't you?”

“What of it?” said the girl, drawing her hand defiantly beneath her nose. “Can't I cry if I want?”

“Not at a ball,” Adare said gently. “It's not the thing. No, you certainly mustn't cry at a ball.”

“A lot you know,” said the girl, again with that laugh drawn in like a sob. She turned her back on him. “I don't want anybody, see? Go away.”

Adare shut the door, then came behind her. For curiosity, and because a medley of sentiments were stirring in him that he could not interpret, he took her


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wrist as before he had taken her ankle, between finger and thumb. The finger overlapped this time by an inch or two. When she shook her arm to escape, he let her go at once.

“Why d'you touch me? That's gentlemen for you.”

“I beg your pardon,” said the young man. “I didn't mean to annoy you.”

“Why do you do it, then? Why are you after me like this? Let me alone, I tell you.”

She kept her shoulders turned to him, picking to pieces, as though she hated it, an ugly flower that had dropped from her hair.

“Is there anyone I can bring to you?”

He meant any relative, any comfortable person on whose shoulder, should she feel so disposed, she might cry, and he was astonished to see the curve of her cheek turn red as though he had slapped it. She faced him.

“I don't want your charity. I don't want partners.”

“Well, then, madam, if it isn't unreasonable to ask, what do you come to a ball for?”

“Oh, get out,” she answered roughly. “I've told you before I don't want you.”

This was no way to address a young man whose spirit was up; a young man, moreover, beginning to assess the sullen eyes and mouth at a value by no means low.

“Are you sure?” said he.

The girl was silent, new to this kind of impudence. He liked the colour across her cheek-bones; she had the


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sallow skin of all currencynote women, and the patches of red became her.

“Are you sure you won't let me offer you an arm, and escort you downstairs, and find the wing of a chicken for you? Why do you keep me here among the cobwebs? A bottle is the only right place for cobwebs——”

“I keep you here!” she said, helplessly angry. “I keep you!

“Put it to yourself, now, is it likely I'll go away and leave you to cry all alone? Even to be angry is better; more becoming, too. It is my duty to stay here and torment you till you come to a better frame of mind. Besides, I am a committee-man, the success of this ball is my affair, I am affronted when the prettiest of all St. Patrick's patrons runs off in a corner to snivel.”

“You don't get round me that way.”

“What way, then? Tell me, and I'll march round and round you like those old Bible fellows at Jericho. Tell me how I can make you endure me.”

“Very funny,” said the girl.

“It was not meant for a joke. It is only my way of talking.”

“Why can't you go and talk to all the swells where you belong?”

“How do you know where I belong?” She did not answer. “I believe you know my name. I believe you've had your eye on me all the evening, if the whole truth were told.”




  ― 139 ―

“Oh, go away, go away!”

“Listen,” said he, changing his tone instantly, “I don't know what's troubling you, but there is something that's certain. If I can help, tell me. If I can't, I promise I'll go.”

“You can't. Nobody can.”

He bowed without the satirical flourish he had at first intended, and said, looking at her eyes, dark-set, but blue perhaps by daylight:

“Good night, then, madam.”

On the words, they both became aware of a change in the quality of those sounds which had run beneath their talk. The bourdon of conversation, human noise, had been steadily sustained; above it flickered, in sharp differentiation, noises inanimate, chinks and clashes of glasses and knives. Now for a moment all these died, a single voice could be heard calling something not to be distinguished. Immediately the human voice rose, again, and another inanimate sound with it, a rumbling of wood upon wood, chairs being pushed hastily back, while the voices took a higher pitch. It might have been only a loyal toast, and the ending of supper, but for some reason neither of the listeners in the office could think so. As they stood, a scent crept to them, carrying warning.

“Wait,” quietly said Adare to the girl.

He opened the door. The smell of smoke was not to be mistaken. He went quickly downstairs past the ventilator, through which he caught a glimpse of people moving with the slow urgency of a blocked throng; he reckoned up and rejected this opening as a chance


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of escape—too small, the drop on the farther side too great. The smoke was thick, he had difficulty in breathing in the darkness, but he reached the door at the stairs' foot and opened it. A blast of fire rushed in upon him, so that he threw up his hands instinctively to shelter his face. He had one thought; I must get back to her. He pulled the door to, shoving his hand through flame, and fled upstairs through the smoke, holding his breath lest he should cough and so stifle before he reached the upper room. He reached the top, gasping, and shut that door too before he looked for her, and saw a white shape at the window blocking out blue darkness.

“Don't,” he called. “Wait. Give me a moment—the smoke——”

She turned her head, and to his astonishment, almost his indignation, saw that she was laughing. She spoke out the window:

“That's the way, mister. Set it up, we can drop to it.”

A man's voice outside said something, which she answered with a sudden screech of laughter, and a colloquial:

“That's right.”

“What is it?”

Adare was beside her, whooping the fresh air into his lungs. Staring down, he could make out a square-covered cart below, drawn by a pony. A man was standing upon its top, setting a ladder against their wall. He could hear the shoulders of the ladder scrape upon bricks four feet or so below the window.




  ― 141 ―

“A danna-drag,” she answered. “Are you any the wiser?”

He was not; when a further witticism came from the rescuer, and was answered, still he was at a loss.

“You go first,” the girl ordered; “it's nothing of a drop. Hold by the sill.”

“Pardon me,” Adare answered, humour coming back to him with his breath, “but which of us two is the damsel in distress?”

She laughed again at that—she was excited, the red still barred her cheek-bones—and took the oil lamp from its suspensory ring, holding it so as to illuminate the window; for the first time she looked at her gallant, dishevelled, stock pulled undone, and eyebrows burnt off.

“Looks as if it's you,” said she, grinning. “Go on, show the way.”

“I'm damned if I do. Women and children first.”

“Well,” said the girl, judicially, “there's plenty time. Hold the lamp, then.”

He took the lamp, holding it awkwardly in his scorched hand. She hesitated, turned half from him, a tribute to modesty, and unhooked, untied, somehow loosed her flounces, which dropped round her feet. She jerked her head at them, advancing to the window.

“Drop 'em after me.”

Then with a neat swift movement she was over the sill, and he saw her two little red hands strongly clutching for a second while her feet searched in air. They loosened


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their grip, disappeared; leaning out, he saw that she was almost down. He picked up the petticoats and sprigged skirt, waited till she had her footing and was looking up, then tossed them. The man on the cart, receiving one soft drift of white, found something jocose to say which Adare, in a puzzle with his lamp, did not hear. At last he put it out, straddled the sill, easily found the ladder and descended to the cart's flat top. There the rescuer, an individual who smelt unpleasantly, could be heard saying, between hiccups of laughter:

“Done for a jump, mister! Well, that's a new one. That's plummy, that is. First time anyone's due to have a medal for knapping a jacob.note You was on toast without it, though; you was, proper.”

Adare agreed to as much as he comprehended of this speech, and sought the darkness for his companion.

“Are you quite unharmed?” he called. “Miss——” but what the devil was her name? “Are you safe?”

“Ha!” commented the man of the cart, with an indescribable weeping snort. “S'help us, her in her kickseys and he don't know her name.”

Adare hit him as decisively as darkness and the uncertain footing would allow. The man cursed and fell backwards to the ground, where he lay. Adare leapt down beside him.

“Come, get up out of there. That's for what you said. Here's for what you did.”




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“Eh?” said the man, bewildered. “You'd no call to do a thing like that, mister. You was on toast——”

“I know, I know. Where's your hand?”

The man rose grumbling; two half-guineas, the only coins Mr. Adare's pocket contained, were pressed into his hand, and he heard his assailant-cum-benefactor say, on top of a shrill whistle:

“Why, damn it, my fist's grilled like an underdone steak!”

The cart's pony, which during this interlude had budged no more than a sphinx, seemed to wake from a doze and moved forward. His owner, feeling the weight and milling of the two coins in the dark, called out the tribute money can always command:

“You're a gentleman, mister.” He added, as an after-thought: “No offence, I hope.”

“Where's the lady?” said Adare, peering as the cart moved, and its conductor ran to hook his ladder to the back.

“She won't be far,” returned the man, and burst into another laugh. “Fancy, it ain't what I'm used to collecting, by no means, not of a night.”

Slowly, clanking, the cart moved off, and Adare could discover no girl behind it. One petticoat lay where it had fallen, but she had assumed the rest of her attire and fled. Adare picked up the petticoat idly, then with a start recollected the reason and occasion of its discarding. Fire, fire! He could hear, coming from the other side of the building, the unmistakable confused echoes that are


  ― 144 ―
waked by that cry; and throwing the petticoat over his shoulder, impulsively ran.

Into George Street the fine ladies and their escorts were herding, while from the steps of the Temperance Hall officers cried, in parade-ground voices, reports and reassurances which nobody heeded. In the poor light of coach lanterns and half a dozen street lamps the crowd eddied, unwilling to disperse and leave a clear way for soldiers with pails of water; bound by half a dozen different spells the dancers lingered, by a shawl left in the cloakroom, a husband not yet seen safe, desire to miss no excitement, expectation of some spectacular rescue. Pickpockets, upon whose hopes such a gathering descended like manna, filched with neatness every fob, handkerchief, snuff-box or purse to which Mercury guided their fingers. There were one or two feminine faintings, with masculine bawls of “Stand back there!” Coachmen sardonically looked down from their boxes. In the windows of the circumferent public-houses lights sprang up mockingly, and persons arrayed with no thought for propriety were displayed leaning out. The only thing lacking to this scene was that which had, presumably, set it in motion. There were no flames, though from a window or two smoke listlessly eddied. Voices near Adare were suggesting that the whole affair was a plant of the tinny-hunters.note All at once he remembered Lady Henrietta, his creation, his triumph in a velvet gown.




  ― 145 ―

“Is everyone out?” he asked his neighbour.

“Everyone, I couldn't say,” the neighbour returned, in the sardonic currency voice Adare could never get used to. “The fire is.”

(iii)

“ ‘AN event,’ ” read Lady Henrietta aloud, “ ‘which might have had unfortunate, not to say tragic consequences, occurred in connection with the St. Patrick's Day Ball, held last night under the auspices of His Excellency and the élite of the Colony. Some tasteful draperies with which part of the ball-room was festooned, took fire, owing to the too close proximity of a lamp, and a wooden partition, together with some of the instruments of the band, was wholly consumed. Owing to an early alarm the conflagration was prevented from spreading, and no damage is reported, as we go to press, save to the sensibilities of the ladies, whose evening's enjoyment was cut short in this most alarming manner. His Excellency’—do you really care to hear all this?”

“I know the next part. His Excellency brought Lady Henrietta Flusky to her coach and sent her home, leaving her escort to find his way to Woolloomooloo as best he could.”

“We could not find you. You were not at supper. Where did you hide?”

“Answer me a question first. Is it or is it not good manners, de rigueur, to return a lady's petticoat?”




  ― 146 ―

“Charles!”

“Not in that voice, if you please. Secondly, allowing that such a return is de rigueur, how does one deduce the lady's address from a simple tab with her name worked on it in cross-stitch?”

“Suppose you tell me the story.”

“How can I? I don't know the half of it. What, for instance, is a danna-drag?”

“Do you really not know? It is the word out here for a night-cart, the men who go about cleaning the privies.”

“Ha!” explosively said Mr. Adare. “So much for romance. Now your book hero, your opera hero, would rather expire in a thousand torments than owe his life to such a machine.” She laughed. “There, you see, my rescue becomes ridiculous at once. I won't tell you another word. However, I may let you interpret the tab for me.”

He produced it, an inch or two of tape on which the name S. QUAIFE was worked in red. Lady Henrietta took it, looking at him as she did so with a question which he forestalled.

“It may stand for Selina, or Susan, or Sarah. I'm no wiser than you.”

“But you would like to be wiser?”

He moved his right arm restlessly back and forth in its sling, got up from his chair and moved to the mantelpiece.

“How the habits of posture cling! Here we are with the thermometer at ninety, still I move towards the fire.


  ― 147 ―
It is the Englishman's right, and the Irishman's too, to keep a woman in the cold with his coat-tails when he wants to put her in her place.”

She asked no more. He went on:

“It is the merest vulgar curiosity on my part, I assure you. I am not the man to be caught by any sharp-spoken hussy with a heart-shaped face. Yes, that was the shape; her hair grew down in a dip on her forehead, and her chin ran to a point. But if you assure me that one does not return a petticoat, of course I shall not pursue the matter further.”

She said after a pause, putting the tab away in a needle-book:

“Let us talk about the Governor. He spoke of you: asked so kindly after you. I told him—something.'

“Blackened yourself to whiten me, I'll be bound.”

“There was no need. The Governor hears more than we suppose. Charles, if he should make an offer, pray consider it.”

“I believe you want to get rid of me.” He was naïvely astonished that she did not look up, smile, and instantly deny this. “What? You do?”

“That is not the way to put it. I think it might be as well for you—not to be any longer here.”

“I see,” Adare answered slowly. In fact, his mind's eye had, upon those words, drawn a picture of Flusky's attitude on the previous evening as they were setting out for the ball, and of a gesture made by him as his wife slipped a hand within his arm. He had put the hand


  ― 148 ―
away from him. Adare, remembering, glimpsed for an instant the intolerable burden of the man's debt, unwittingly contracted and now grown too heavy to repay. His poet's imagination for which words afforded no channel assured him of Flusky's suffering, allowed him to compassionate it; but he could find no formula to express the complex situation other than a blunt: It must be hell to owe your wife to another man. Aloud he repeated:

“I see. Well, since that's the case I'll put my pride in my pocket.”

She looked up quickly, gratefully, but said nothing. The newspaper lay still on her knee, and she availed herself of the chance it offered to avoid further difficult explanations.

“Shall I read on?”

“Do. I cannot manage, swaddled up like this. I like your voice, besides; your well-fitting o's and i's. How I detest vowel-sounds cut on the cross! I could never love a woman that spoke so. Let me have a list of the goods coming up for auction. I like that best.”

She began in all seriousness to read:

“ ‘Mr. T. Smart will have the honour to offer for public competition on March 30th at 11 o'clock precisely, 1 gross of egg-spoons, a second-hand gig, ship biscuit, baby linen, 1 bass-viol (damaged), castor oil, 3 canary birds, Bohemian glass, a superior Europe feather bed, and the effects of a deceased clergyman——’ ”




  ― 149 ―

(iv)

THE two men sat after their evening meal (which had been indifferent, a descent from the feasts of Milly's reign) in the silence which had come to characterize their association. Lady Henrietta was with them. She had eaten nothing. The glasses at her right hand all were empty, as were those set by Flusky; only in Mr. Adare's were dregs of amber and garnet still to be seen, and by him stood a pair of decanters. The twilight had none of the calm of an English day's ending; a southerly breeze was relieving one of the hottest twelve hours the Colony had ever known, and clouds the colour of lead and blood were driving before it. The evening had a restless threatening quality, not brooding mischief but marching towards it, as though night were to be the signal for outbreak. All three persons at the table were aware of this uneasiness in the atmosphere, and two at least were glad of it, since it afforded a physical explanation for the apprehensions which beset them.

A cry, sudden and abandoned as the yelp of an animal, made Adare set down the glass he was twisting; Lady Henrietta clapped hands to ears, her mouth for an instant drawn square. Flusky, looking indifferently down towards the bay, said:

“One of the gins. Ketch is back; uses up a lot of wives.”

“What use is an infernal savage like that to any one?” said Adare, sharply. “Why d'you let them camp there?


  ― 150 ―
Why don't they gaol all these murdering devils, and keep them in gaol?”

“Well,” said Flusky, with composure, “he don't do no harm. He has his uses, Ketch.”

Adare was becoming conscious, through his irritation, of the ugliness of the thing he had said. He took some more wine, aware that he did not want it, and that the heat of the evening made drinking unwise, because he was at a loss for a movement to cover discomfort.

“He's come back with a yarn,” Flusky went on; then, as if checking a confidence: “but you can't believe all these coves say.”

Adare said idly: “I don't know how you make out their yabber. Worse than Irish. What's the yarn, as you call it?”

Flusky took a sip of water; then rose, and going to the window put two fingers fork-shaped to his lips. The whistle carried; it ran down the wind as down a slope. The cooee that acknowledged it sounded robust but far, so that it was astonishing to see, within fifty seconds of its utterance, the black outside the window, greased, and reflecting their table's light from cheeks and shoulders. His face was so marred with confluent small-pox that such skin as had escaped the sores stood up here and there in ridges like scars; his teeth were gapped as the ritual of his tribe prescribed; the whites of his eyes were bloodshot with dust. He stared eagerly at Lady Henrietta, who looked away from him. Flusky, standing square, tossed him a cigar, which the black immediately stowed in his mouth to roll and suck at. Adare had seen


  ― 151 ―
enough of the aborigines to find them repulsive rather than strange, and he had no great hopes of the promised yarn. Still, since his chair faced that way, he continued languidly to survey Ketch, whom Flusky addressed:

“You tella where you done been, what you find, Ketch, you sabby tell budgery.”

“Yuna bo ta bang wiyunnun tuloa,”note the black began.

Flusky interrupted roughly:

“Stow that, nobody sabby's that talk. Piyalla English, you sabby plenty. Say out what you told me.”

“Kabo, kabo,” the black answered, making placatory movements of his hands. “Ketch bin gone mountain, long, long——” He indicated illimitable distance with a hand pushed forward three or four times. “You gib Ketch lush?”

Flusky poured from the decanter by Adare's elbow a tumbler of wine, stirred a spoonful of mustard in it, and handed it to the black fellow, who swallowed it unquestioning, glared a moment as the mustard bit his throat, then rubbed his seamed chest, nodding and grinning, approving the power of the draught.

“Plenty budgery. Plenty strong. You gib?”

He held out the tumbler again, which Flusky put back on the table.

“That's enough. Get on, talk.”

The black rolled his eyes piteously upon the other two white persons, but perceiving that they were in no mood for almsgiving, began his story. It sounded, from


  ― 152 ―
the scurry of the words and the lively movements of the teller, to be one of continuous adventure; sentences tripped over each other, the hands continually eking out their meaning, sketching the flight of a bird, the cast of a spear, the shape of a mountain, the twists of a river. Adare understood nothing of it, and soon ceased the sport of trying to catch words. Lady Henrietta looked at her husband, then past him to the burdened racing clouds.

Ketch at last checked his story, and fumbled among the necklaces he wore, a medley of animal's teeth, corks, and the handles of cups strung on sinews from a wallaby's tail. He found something and held it forward between two fingers for inspection. Adare cast an indifferent glance, then straightened in his chair. The object was a flake of quartz; one side glinted as he turned it.

“God, Flusky,” said the young man, keeping his voice low, “surely that's gold?”

“You gib,” said Flusky to the black; and when Ketch hung back, made a movement towards the tumbler as though to refill it, at which promise of a bribe he untwisted his treasure.

“It's gold all right,” Flusky answered after deliberate examination.

“Ask him where he found it. Ask him if this was all.”

“Near the Fish River. Some gully near there.”

“You gib,” Ketch clamoured. “Minnung bullin bi? note You gib lush.”




  ― 153 ―

Flusky filled the glass with the same mixture, while Adare turned the scrap of stone and metal this way and that under the light, inviting Lady Henrietta to admire it. She looked troubled, could find nothing to say in wonder at the white stone veined with gold. The young man at Flusky's side asked for more details with an eagerness he was now at no pains to conceal. Flusky shook his head, and taking the quartz from him, casually returned it to the black with a jerk of dismissal. Adare kept silence while Ketch retreated, imagining this indifference to be part of a plan; then broke out with suggestions and devices.

“There must be more. Let's get an interpreter to question him—no, that won't do, of course, we don't want the whole Colony to know. How are we to get it out of him? How far is this river, has it been surveyed, are there roads?”

Flusky answered soberly:

“I only brought him up for the lark of the thing; something to do. You don't want to take it for gospel.”

“But it's gold. It must be gold!”

“It's gold all right.” He paused. “Did ever you hear about a cove called Parker?”

“Who, Nosey? Does that mean I'm asking too many questions?”

“Parker was a prisoner, got away from a road gang. When they found him, he had a lot of this stuff, stowed inside his shirt. They took the shirt off him, and the hide, too. He died, not so long after.”




  ― 154 ―

Adare stared at the square white face, the motionless hanging hands; looked to Lady Henrietta for enlightenment, but she was frowning; came back to the charge.

“But why? How long ago? Gold means wealth to a country, surely?”

“But it don't mean wealth where it's wanted, see, and that's why.” Adare, incredulous, was beginning to argue; the thick hand cut off his words. “Gold's found; as soon as that gets about, what happens? All the population goes after it, shepherds, farmers, useful men out of the towns. It pulls away all the labour. Land's no good without labour. And there's a lot of people here own land. Government included. I go in for land myself.”

His explanation ended with that sentence. What followed was in the nature of a commentary. “So, you see, they don't let it get about.”

“You mean, this man Parker was killed to silence him?”

Flusky did not answer. A sheet of lightning blanched the room and all three faces for a moment.

“It's coming,” said Lady Henrietta under her breath, beginning to reckon on the table with fingers the seconds that heralded thunder. Ten, twelve, fifteen——

“But a private individual—if you were to find it, or I, for instance; they couldn't touch a private individual. Parker was a prisoner. What could they do?”

Twenty. Thunder began to rip and mutter, coming up, like a discoverer blown by storm, along the coast


  ― 155 ―
from the south. Adare gave a laugh when it ceased.

“The Government! I don't believe it. It's money in their pockets, too.”

“I only know what I've heard. Parker wasn't the only one. Surveyor McBrian found gold in the river up near Bathurst. And there's a road there never got finished; improperly surveyed, they said, and shifted the road gang to Newcastle. I'm only telling you.”

“I can't believe they're such damn fools. I'm seeing the Governor to-morrow——”

“Charles! Are you?”

“A message, this afternoon.” He returned to Flusky. “Have you any objection to my making enquiries? Discreetly, of course?”

Flusky, hands in pocket, shook his head, and poured out water into a tumbler. Adare called:

“Look out, that's the glass the black fellow used.”

“So it is,” Flusky answered, rinsing out the dregs of claret and mustard before he filled it again and drank; then said, mildly raising his eyes: “If you want, you could come and look at my map.”

The map, a white space on which black symbols indicated the fall of water, lift of mountains, and those places where men had set temporary hearthstones, was coloured by Adare's imagination as a child fills in with chalks the line-drawings in a book. He had talked to men who knew the country, remembering their casual descriptions. He had turned over drawings in the Surveyor's office, and ridden towards the Blue Mountains


  ― 156 ―
with some of His Excellency's young men. With pleasure his mind projected the details of a journey. Plains first of all, yellow in the rainless autumn weather, whirlwinds of dust stalking on them, tall as the fisherman's jinn. Then ranges, similar as ridges left upon sand by the outgoing tide, above which crows flew level and eagles soared spiralling. Storms moved high above these hills with an escorting rattle of barren thunder. Winds from the north-west, constant as compass-needles, pointed towards country known as yet only to the black hunters, rich only in their food; grubs, snakes, tree creatures. Beyond this the rivers sank to links of ponds, or failed altogether, the earth gaped in broad cracks ancient and lifeless as craters of the moon. In such country, destitute of everything that gold could buy, gold reflected the sun unheeded; in piles of dirt scratched up by dingoes, in rocks whereon the blacks scrawled with soot and clay the hieroglyphics of their priesthood, in the roots of lean trees overturned by wind.

Adare, gazing at the map, went forward to the beckoning of this imagined thirst-defended gold. Flusky's voice came to him as though from a distance.

“Gold means trouble. Gold don't do nobody any good.”

(v)

HIS Excellency said, looking up from papers:

“Glad to see you, Charles. Sit down. I won't keep you long.”




  ― 157 ―

The young man, however, strolled to a window, and looked down across bleached grass to the bay. It was singularly blue, and large ships rode close to shore; deep water there. On Dawes' Battery soldiers in red coats, coifed with tall shakos that left their napes bare to the sun, were changing guard. Not a child watched them, not a dog. Heat prevailed over curiosity.

“Well, Charles?”

“Sir.” He turned and came towards the desk, standing by it. “I'm sorry our social endeavours the other night ended in smoke.”

“I heard you'd been hurt.”

“It's nothing.” Adare shook his hand free from its sling. “My own fault. Tell me, didn't you fall in love with my Lady Hattie?”

“She's a beauty, poor woman, no doubt of that. To look at her——”

“To look at her you wouldn't think she was scandalous, and you'd be right.”

The Governor did not take up the challenge. He began to seek among his papers, talking:

“You've had three months of this country now. You're acclimatized. I take it, too, you've learned better how to conduct speculations in land.”

“You are right, as it happens; there is no speculation in these eyes.” He checked. “It was an odd mistake for Flusky to make, of all people. He must have known the applications would go to you.”

“Are you so sure it was a mistake?” The young man


  ― 158 ―
stared. “It served his purpose very well; got you out of my house into his.”

“He couldn't have guessed you would take it so hard. No, that's far-fetched. He's not such a Machiavelli as that.”

The Governor dropped the subject.

“And the poetry? How does that go?”

“Oh, the poetry,” the young man answered, inexplicably smiling. “Not so badly.”

“Would a project of action appeal to you?” Adare gave consent by his silence, sitting down upon the edge of the desk to listen. “Fortescue is setting out on an expedition with a limited objective——” His Excellency found the paper he had been seeking. “You will hear historians talk of rivers as arteries of commerce. In this country they are life-blood. Mitchell was gone off before we arrived, to survey the Bogan; that was a Government project. Dixon, too, is one of our men. Fortescue is a private person, but he has Government backing to this extent: we will acknowledge his discoveries very handsomely on our maps, and he has authority from me to risk his own existence and that of anyone he can persuade to accompany him. He proposes to take ship along the coast—it is the shortest route—to a spot above Port Macquarie, and thence strike inwards. We know little, as yet, of the river that runs into Tryal Bay; or of the watershed inland, from which perhaps other streams are distributed. Three or four months' wandering, with the chance of giving your name to some mountain, or


  ― 159 ―
other conspicuous natural feature. What do you say?”

Adare answered, rather absently:

“Port Macquarie; not near the Fish River, is it?” The Governor did not answer, looking his astonishment, and Adare went on rapidly: “I have heard that name somewhere lately. It stays in my head. Who is Mr. Fortescue?”

“Dine to-night and meet him.”

“Very happy.” He stood up, half-laughing. “I suppose there would be no objection, if we found a reef of gold on the way, to our bringing some of it home?”

“Gold?” His Excellency looked up sharply. “The first thing every fool hopes to find in a new country.”

Adare answered as crisply:

“Why the devil not?” He knew he had spoken with too much abruptness, and turned it off. “Every man hopes to be rich without working. You are an Irishman yourself, we are all of us on the look-out for the leprechaun's crock.”

“A lot of good his crock has ever done. Look at the Spaniards, they found it in Peru; and now Spain's choked with the stuff, dying like King Midas. No, no, Charles, be said by me. If your services on this expedition are adequate, there'll be no difficulty about a grant. Get land, don't waste time listening for the tap of the little man's hammer.”

Adare was silent. The Governor stood up, offering his hand. “I expect you to-night, then. My regards to Lady Henrietta.”

“You made a conquest there.”




  ― 160 ―

“She is a fine creature. Very great beauty, great charm.”

“Very.”

“It is remarkable, for she must be, let me see; yes, she must be over forty.”

“Not a doubt of it. The dangerous age.”

His Excellency drew back from this thrust and parry, aware that the young man had become defiant for some reason, and put on the official again.

“I will endeavour to have someone from the Surveyor's Office this evening, with maps. No reason why you should not take advice, as far as advice may carry you. Will six o'clock suit you? Till then.”

The young man, turning down the left-hand sweep of Government House drive, past a sentry retired into his box to escape the sun, walked by the Secretary's offices, and so by way of Bridge Street to the centre of the town. There in George Street he found a cleanly-looking barber's shop, had his hair cut, and listened to New World gossip as it drifted to him from the neighbouring chairs; prevalence of influenza among sheep up-country, a project of growing tobacco in the Colony—“all right, but how about locusts?”—the recent public execution of a thief. There was no little discussion of this last, until the barber at the next chair pronounced with authority:

“Harper strung him up neat enough, but he had time to kick. It wants what I call the hand. It's something you can't teach a man. There's no call to let 'em kick, not if a man known his job.”




  ― 161 ―

Adare, head bent forward to allow the scissors' play upon his neck, recorded this utterance in his memory. To each man his conscience in art, thought he. But he was unprepared for the next comment, which came from a personage with the appearance of a turnkey:

“You'd never ought to have given it up. There's work enough, with men taking to the bush every week. You did ought to have stuck to it.”

The authoritative barber shook his head, delicately tilting his client's head sideways with a finger and thumb straddling the nose.

“There's not a living in it. I haven't got only myself to think of.”

“Tell me,” said Adare, low to his own attendant, “is that individual shaving my neighbour the hangman?”

“Was, sir. Was. Retired a year ago and set up here.”

“Does he do well?”

“Well? Yes, sir, nicely, he's got a wonderful light hand. It's a nice connection.”

The proprietor looked about him, razor in hand, lacked something, and with the strong crook of his little finger pulled a bell-rope that ended in a loop of twine. Someone entered, pushing aside the curtain at the back of the shop.

“Towels, Sue.”

Mr. Adare, idly raising his head, saw in the mirror before him a remembered profile. He sprang up, making a small commotion, sending a brush to the floor.

“It's you! Good day to you. Why didn't you wait?


  ― 162 ―
I lost you the other night. I hope you took no harm.”

The girl halted, and a flush brightened her eyes before she looked down at her apron.

“I was all right.”

“Who's the gent, Sue?” That was the proprietor, indulgently smiling, but with a steady suspicious glance.

“At the ball the other night.” She vouchsafed no other explanation. Adare perceived that the adventure of the escape had been left untold, and might remain so. He was aware, also, that in such circumstances it would not be de rigueur to return her petticoat. He repeated, elaborating, his first greeting:

“I hope you took no harm with all the flurry of the fire.”

She neither answered nor departed; she was looking at his sling. The other customers stared at them both, and Adare became conscious that once again he presented no very heroic figure, with a towel about his neck and his hair, untutored by any final combing, in disarray. He bowed and waited, unwilling to sit down again until she should be gone, aware of her father's eye upon him. For he had jumped up to greet her with a spontaneous gladness which astonished himself, and the flush that ran across her cheek had gratified something which he supposed must be his vanity. The proprietor strung up their embarrassment neatly and finally; not a kick was left in the situation when he had done with it.

“Towels, Sue. Are you done, Mister? There's others waiting.”




  ― 163 ―

Adare accepted the fiat, and did not await the girl's reappearance from behind the curtain. He looked at the sign as he passed out. “Vigors,” it read, in letters large and faded; above, inconspicuous, the words “Quaife, late,” indicated the shop's present owner, and the value that he set upon his predecessor's good-will.

“That's how I missed it,” he thought. This was nothing less than an admission that he had been on the look-out for possible bearers of that curious name. Stung, he moved on, but turned inexplicably after a moment to survey the house again. As he did so, the curtain of a window above the shop was drawn with a brisk clash of wooden rings. He knew why, and stood his ground, looking up. The curtain did not budge again. Nevertheless, putting his uninjured hand to his hat he swept it off, and felt the sun's full weight on his forehead for five seconds or so. Passers-by observed him. He stared them down, resumed his hat, cocked it as well as its width would allow, and strolled on.

(vi)

THE picture composed in the withdrawing-room of the house in Woolloomooloo came within no catalogue description; it was not a conversation piece, nor a genre picture, nor wholly an interior, for two wide windows stood open on to the bay, and the fires of the blacks' camp could be seen from them. Two personages held


  ― 164 ―
the eye. One was a woman sewing, holding a thick white sock, manipulating her needle awkwardly, drawing too long a thread right and left to make the web; the lamplight, flaring and drooping, gave her figure primary value. The other, sprawled out of the lamp's range, was that of a man in dark trousers and jacket, bulky, motionless. Hands slid into pockets, slippered feet crossed, he sat still, for sole occupation eyeing the go and come of his wife's arm, into the light and out. A clock, of which both were unconscious, assumed the rôle of a third individual; one who betrays secrets he is never told.

Although in the room no one spoke, unless the clock's monotone might count as a voice, sounds enough entered, each carrying its implication. From the bay came the grating of wood upon sand as a boat was drawn up for the night. The blacks sang like dogs round their fire, drawing great breaths, launching a high note, and dwindling down the scale as their wind failed.

Morruda, yerraba, tundy kin arra
Morruda, yerraba, min yin guiny wite mala.note

Their curs howled with them. Frogs protested. Nearer, the voices of women in the kitchen never ceased, and upon the path that ran below the window footsteps moved with regular beat; Mr. Secretary taking half an hour's exercise after a long day at his desk.




  ― 165 ―

“I am sorry, Sam, that the dinner was not good. I have not Charles's knack with the women. They are insolent and lazy, and I can't be at the trouble of perpetually scolding and teaching.”

“I'm not grumbling.”

“You never grumble.”

Silence again, and the clock's insistence: time—time; going—going; gone—sirs; gone—sirs; gone.

“I wish Charles would come home. I am so greatly concerned to know what has happened, the Governor's plan for him. Sam——” the hand ceased its weaving—“you must help me persuade him.”

“It's his business.”

“You brought him to this house. You owe him, we both owe him very much.” A restless movement came from the figure outside the lamp's circle. She resumed her darning and spoke while appearing to give the sock entire attention:

“I have thought sometimes lately that you might be glad if his visit were to come to an end. Was I right, is that true? No, do not answer, I know words make you uneasy. But perhaps it would be better if he were to go.”

“Let him stay if you want him.”

“Sam, sometimes I wish you would or could be a little more open. I never know what you are thinking and planning. It is my own fault, do not suppose I blame you, it is I who have failed. I have been the worst wife any man ever had——”

“Stow that. None of that.”




  ― 166 ―

“No, but I want you to understand that I know what I have done. I have come to know it, and—let me say it, let us clear the air as far as we can. I am very sorry.”

“What have you done?” She looked towards his chair, saw him coming towards her, and held a hand to him.

“You know how I have failed you. Publicly shamed you—that dinner-party, I cannot remember, but I do not forget it. It was not the first time. But it shall be different now. I think I have the strength now.” She spoke slowly, gazing at her shiny halted needle. “Sam, do you remember what you told me once, how you looked through the window when my father and I were at dinner? You were riding that tall mare, Pope Joan; you could not have seen, otherwise. That was the beginning. How far it has led us!” He was standing by her; she put her hand on his thick arm, and heard, coming back from memories, the clock chanting without emphasis its requiem for time. “Both of us to this country, and you to fortune, and me to—I don't know, I can't tell yet. Isn't it a strange thing, Sam, I see what I have been doing as though some other person had done it. That is not the way to change and become better, is it? Not to forget the past; one should remember and be sorry, and build upon it. It was because I had not courage to remember that this all happened, this wretched failure——”

He said nothing, responding in no way when suddenly she laid her cheek to his sleeve. She began to laugh.




  ― 167 ―

“I wish I could train you to talk. I have often wished the same thing with a dog or a horse. What interesting different things they would have to say, seeing us from their own standpoint as they do! I would sometimes like to be able to make words I could understand out of the wuff-wuff you bestow upon me now and then——”

As though in answer to this wish, going away from her and settling suddenly in his chair again like a large dog lying down, he began:

“Milly's gone to some captain's wife.”

“Milly! Did you see her, speak to her?”

“Not me. They were talking.”

“Who, Sam? What did they say?”

“It's what she's been saying.”

“About us?”

“Some of us.”

“What does that mean?” Before he could answer she went on. “She disapproved of Charles. I suppose some legends have been started. It will give all the ladies something to talk of. They must be grateful.” Flusky continued to look at her, defenceless in her circle of light, from his ambush in shadow. “Charles—I suppose they have made him out my lover. How absurd it sounds! How——” A gesture of the hand, forsaking the silks for an instant to lift and drop, showed better than words could do how powerless over her heart, how preposterous was young Adare regarded as a lover.

“Hush, what's that?”

They had both become accustomed to the secretary's


  ― 168 ―
pendulum swing on the path below the window; the cessation of his steps served now as interruption. They heard voices, one breathless, as of a man who had come fast up the hill.

“You, Winter? I've been down there with Ketch and his pack. They stink prodigious awful. ‘However, the poor jackals are less foul (as being the brave lion's keen providers) than human insects, catering for spiders.’ ”

“I don't know that—sir.”

“Byron. I'll lend it you. You can't speak their lingo, can you? Ketch and Company? Never mind. Is anybody up still? There's a light.”

The two in the room heard his steps mounting quickly, then an interim of quiet while they crossed grass, then sounding again on the verandah boards. Adare stood at the window, arms stretched wide to support him as he leaned in.

“Domestic peace, salute! Here I come, fresh from Government House. There is a kind of tickling on my shoulders as if epaulettes were growing there. I'm thirsty. Why don't we all have some tea?”

Lady Henrietta nodded towards the bell, Flusky from his ambush observing her face. It was frankly welcoming, the mouth was parted, the eyes bright as a smile half-closed them. Before Adare could reach the bell, Flusky, stretching out an arm over the back of his chair, gave the rope a tug, and they heard a jangling in the kitchen which produced but a momentary effect upon the conversation there.




  ― 169 ―

“That won't get so much as a stir out of them, let alone wet the tea,” said Adare.

He turned, and in the darkness ran along the verandah to where the kitchen-window opened, round a corner. They heard a sudden silence from the women, then a whoop of laughter.

“Sam, what precisely is it that Milly has been saying? I laughed, but it is dangerous, perhaps, to let it go on.”

“That's right,” Flusky agreed soberly.

“Is there anything we can do?”

“Plenty.”

“Will you look to it? You are more in touch, more able to deal with such matters than I.”

“I'll look to it.”

She gave him a little nod of thanks before she began to fold her wools, and they waited silently for the tea. It came, heralded by voices in dispute.

“I never give a civil word to a man at the back door in my life.”

“There's plenty of other things you can give to men at back doors.”

“Never, don't I tell you! I'm a good girl.”

“No doubt of it. Give us a sermon next Sunday.”

“You want Miss Milly for that. Sermon! She'd ha' lined her kickseys with hymn-books.”

“Pretty thought. Now be off to the back door again. Give me the tray; sell your virtue dear. Don't take a farthing less than sixpence, as you value my regard.”

Adare appeared with the tray. He set it down, and


  ― 170 ―
stood negligently pouring the tea, talking the while.

“I begin to depend upon this national drink. Do you observe, in the generation growing up, a yellowish tinge of countenance? In China they are yellow, too, for the same cause. But we absorb beakers where they swallow thimblefuls. We shall be mahogany in two generations, while they can never advance beyond a paltry lemon. Observe, I say ‘we.’ That is because I am now finally resolved to leave my bones here, after I have done with them. Is this how you like your cup?”

She said as she accepted it, lively eagerness and interest in her voice:

“How went your dinner-party?”

“Fortescue—I told you about Fortescue?—was there. (Flusky, you take sugar, I think?) We did not agree. His Excellency my sixth cousin made the mistake of telling each one of us beforehand what a fine fellow was the other. Result: detestation immediate and irrevocable.”

“No expedition, then?”

“Oh, yes. Certainly an expedition, if I can raise the money. But not with Mr. Fortescue. What do you say to gold?”

Lady Henrietta, looking up startled at that word, saw her husband's steady eyes fixed on the young man. Her lamp had been moved to make room for the tea-tray, it no longer allowed him his hiding-place of shadow, and she could read very well the expression which showed for an instant and was gone.

“Gold! Not with Ketch, Charles. Not that gold——”




  ― 171 ―

“And why not, my dear? If, as I said, I can raise the money. Not much; but we want equipment. Shall we say, a hundred pounds?”

He looked at Flusky, as did she. They talked to each other, but Flusky with his silence was calling the tune. He spoke after a little.

“How much?”

“Blessed words!” Mr. Adare set down his teacup. “Does that mean you'll help? I knew it. You're the King-Emperor of good fellows, Flusky.”

Lady Henrietta on impulse, on the memory of that single second's glimpse, cried out:

“Sam, no! Don't offer, don't give it him.”

Adare turned in genuine surprise.

“What's this? Who's been at me this past month to do something with myself? What's the matter?”

“If you go with the Governor's man, yes.”

“My dear, here's a great to-do you're making. Where's the difference between going after gold we have proof of and going after some tomfool river that may not exist?”

“If you go with Ketch,” said she slowly, as though in fact she saw events unrolling before her fixed eyes, “he will lead you where he chooses, and leave you to die, walking in a circle in the bush. Then he will plunder your clothes and weapons, and disappear. That is what it is intended should happen.”

“Listen.” Adare was sensitive to her distress. “I'm not going alone. Listen quietly. There was a fellow there


  ― 172 ―
this evening from the Survey Office. Thomson is his name. He detested Fortescue as much as I did. (Priggish, self-satisfied, counter-jumper!) We walked home here in the cool. Thomson is no fool, he is a geologist by nature, and he performs to perfection those mysteries with rods, poles and perches which are Greek to me. In addition he can read—say, rather, he is aware that books exist, and are of a heavenly uselessness. Mr. Fortescue, on the other hand, supposes that books are things kept by double entry, which serve purposes in lawyers' dens. Thomson, like his namesake of the Seasons, is all for binding the nations in a golden chain. At the close of our walk I took him to see Ketch's necklace. He pronounces it gold.”

“It is, it is gold,” she said, beating her hands together. “That is the bait in the trap.”

“Trap?” He turned, following the direction of her eyes, to view Flusky, sprawled in his chair. The big man was smiling. Now, paying no attention to the emotional atmosphere, he repeated his question:

“How much is wanted? How much did you reckon?”

“Two hundred apiece for equipment and food. I have a hundred of my own left. Will you lend me the rest? And take half my share in anything we find. I hope, for your sake, we'll be lucky.”

Lady Henrietta came across the room and dropped to her knees at her husband's side. The movement, wholly impulsive, yet had some too dramatic quality due to her height and the sweep of her dress.




  ― 173 ―

“Sam, don't lend this money. I am asking you something with my whole heart.”

Adare lightly clapped his hands and went to lift her.

“Bravo! Now for the husband's curse, and the snow-storm of paper.”

She resisted the pressure of his hand on her arm, insisting, eyes on her husband's face:

“Sam, I am asking you not to do this. Because of what I now know; I beg you; I will do anything you want.”

Flusky patted her shoulder and rose, with a good-humoured nod to Adare over her head.

“Looks to me you haven't got a right notion.” His voice was reasonable, kind. “You talk as if I wanted this young fool to go off after gold. I've told him it's not healthy; I'm sick of talking.” He pulled her to her feet, and a slow shake of the head responded to her pleading. “You got to do me justice. I done what I could. I told him not to heed Ketch. You take me up wrong. I say it now, I'll say it as often as you like; Ketch is a liar, this gold's more danger than it's worth. He knows that. What more can I do?”

“You see,” said Adare, gently adding his persuasion, “I'm only twenty, Hattie. I don't want to settle down to ploughing yet awhile. This is a new country, what's a new country for? Not to sit—no offence, sweet lady—in a woman's pocket. Wait till I bring back nuggets, a beautiful necklace like the one Ketch is wearing——”

“You fool!” said she furiously.

“Hattie! What's come to you?”




  ― 174 ―

Flusky said nothing. He faced the two with a masculine calm that made her agony, expressed as it was in sudden sound and fury, appear a tale told by an idiot. Adare looked from one to the other, mystified. An explanation occurred to him. He lifted, simultaneously, his elbow a little and his eyebrows; Flusky gave a short nod. But she, from the corner of her eye, caught the interchange.

“Charles, no! Not that. I've not been drinking.”

“All right, my dear. Sober as a judge. As a whole bench of judges. Of course you are.”

The tone, humouring, tender, lent a last irony to her despair. She took a stride forward, tearing her dress; one hand went to her forehead, clutching and loosening the hair.

“Dear.” It was the young man's voice at her side. “It's late. Won't you go up to bed? Don't be angry, Hattie.”

“Is it no use, then, fighting? Can nothing ever be changed? No hope?”

This was spoken to herself, so softly that the men could take no meaning from the movement of her lips. She opened her eyes. Both were looking at her, and the same expression arrayed both faces; the tolerant masculine look, making allowance for creatures whose balance is less sure, whose emotions are gales which no barometer announces. She ran away from that look with a cry not articulate; ran blindly out of the room.




  ― 175 ―

(vii)

LADY HENRIETTA, sitting alone in her drawing-room in the evening, held a roundel of canvas on her lap at which she did not look. It was the rustic design upon which her fingers had first re-learned industry, Chloe with her flock. Of this last, two sheep remained to be clad in French knots, the grass of the hillock awaited its green, and Chloe's crook its ribbons. She had begun to take up this canvas daily, at the same hour, and to sit with it on her knee. She did not draw the needle through the squares, but threaded it carelessly with any coloured silk that came first to hand, and waited. The hope possessed her that by setting out the inessentials of past magic, she might somehow stir into life the heart of the spell. Her memory found record of an ancestress, Dame Agnes, the Irish witch that diddled a bishop, waiting at cross-roads to command spirits, a peacock's feather held in her left hand. With just such imperative patience Flusky's wife waited, tormented with echoes.

“I'm no more in love with you than with Britannia on the penny.”

The words would not take body, they remained echoes only. The voice that had spoken them was sounding—where?

She abandoned her passive conjuration, let the silks tumble, and began to walk the room haphazard. It was late afternoon, rainy, with a wind that made lugubrious music in he-oaks and pepper-trees. The


  ― 176 ―
fishermen's boats were drawn up; their nets lifted on poles resembled what she had read of the black tents of wandering Arabs, in Lady Hester Stanhope's life. “Lady Hattie Flusky in Australia Felix.” It was the echo again, recurring to plague her; though she could not recollect when the phrase had been uttered, she knew it for his. She looked away from the nets towards the patch of rocks against which Ketch and his company were used to sleep, under piled slabs of bark. The blacks had quitted the place in a body some days after Ketch, with the two young men, had set out northwards. They gave no warning of their movements, but came and went with the unanimity of a flock of cockatoos, according as rumours reached them of plentiful food, or girls ripe to be wives, among those whom they contemptuously called the myalls, wild fellows, living beyond the white man's pastures.

Lady Henrietta, looking now at the patch of rocks which was their habitual rallying-place, perceived a thin and very blue smoke beginning to drift out from it; smoke which towered, then mushroomed, dispersing over the bay. She put her hand with an unthinkingly dramatic gesture to her heart, and watched, quite still, that smoke which was the black man's roof-tree, his standard, and the symbol of his dominion over the beasts. She could see no figures moving, the wind blew away from her any sound of voices there might be.

She opened the window, then, as the air struck cold, ran back into the room to pick up a wallaby skin from


  ― 177 ―
the floor. This she held about her shoulders, and, careless for her hair, went down the steps into the rain.

She reached the bottom of the hill and went rapidly on towards the smoke, of which a sweet medicinal gust blew her way now and then, until she could hear voices on the wind.

Their confusion grew louder; as at a signal, stopped. The blacks had seen her.

They were accustomed to the white men's gins, riding through streets, flowers unknown blooming upon their heads, sometimes with gleaming windows fixed upon their faces, to each eye one. These gins when they set foot to ground walked out-toed; they held the arms of men as a precaution against being suddenly struck and carried off; they carried no burdens, and were greeted with bare heads in the sun. Priestesses all, therefore, feeding without labour, eternally dressed and painted for corroborree.

This lubra with the wallaby skin upon her shoulders, her head bare and the colour of that ochre used in hidden valleys to paint their sacred stones, was not of the everyday order of priestesses, they concluded. They looked at her, and as she with questioning glances caught their eyes, shyly turned from her. She began to speak, gesturing between the words:

“You know Ketch?” They looked vacant; she drew with a forefinger on her breast the shape of Ketch's half-moon of brass. They turned from one to the other, and a man said something rapidly. “Ketch, a chief,


  ― 178 ―
went away with two other men, white men——” She stooped to the fire, picked up a charred black twig and held it up, two of her own white fingers beside it. Her fingers began to walk in the air, and the twig kept them company. The people laughed at this pantomime, but showed no sign that they took its meaning. “To look for gold——” She tapped the ring on her marriage finger with the twig—“One was young with a round face. Where have they gone? Have you seen?” And she repeated the airy pilgrimage of the stick and the fingers. “Charles—Have you heard that name spoken?” She recollected the curious preference of men for surnames. “Adare, Adare, Thomson, do you know that? Ketch; you must know that. You must know something, wretched people!”

They laughed politely at the white lubra's earnestness, all part of the play which she was, for some reason unguessed by them, enacting for them in the rain. Then the oldest man, coming forward, touched the wallaby skin, saying the only words of English that had ever done him any good:

“You gib it?”

She spoke again, encouraged by this, and pulled the skin willingly from her shoulders. He took it with satisfaction as a gift, not understanding that she offered it in payment for information. It was soft, beautifully tanned; he bent it in his fingers, appreciating the absence of crackle, and looked with wonder at her urgent eyes still questioning him.




  ― 179 ―

“Well? Tell me. Adare. Ketch. Alive? Dead?”

At a loss for a gesture to express the difference, she dipped her twig at the fire till it lighted, and holding it up before her mouth repeated the word:

“Alive?”

They watched. She took a breath, blew. The flame vanished, and a brief trail of sparks fled from her hand. When the twig was black again, once more she held it up.

“Dead?”

They watched as before. They understood nothing, and the old man was walking away with his treasure, paying no further heed to her. She flung out her hands.

“People, have you seen nothing? These men, two white men—nothing? Ketch?”

They watched, interested, as she flung back her head, imploring their secret. They admired and valued her; they were glad to have had her declare these mysteries to them alone, no white person near. When she turned away at last they regretted her going, and called two or three civilities after her, but she paid no heed, scrambling over rocks made shiny by the skid of marsupials' feet.

When she came to the top of the path she stood, for the first time allowing herself to take the full weight of her misery. Exiled from both her worlds, murderer of a brother, bereft by the man she loved of the man who had restored her to some intelligence of life: was not this sorrow? At the word came the echo of a young voice, its natural lightness deliberately clouded, reading aloud:




  ― 180 ―
“Sweetest sorrow …
I thought to leave thee,
And deceive thee,
But now of all the world I love thee best.”

And that, she remembered, was a verse of the poet, the little apothecary, who had died at twenty-seven. She, at twenty-seven, had been seduced, had killed, had gone for ever from her home, but life held promise, and she would not willingly then have left it. Now only her flesh was reluctant.

She went up the steps, and lightly along the verandah to the dining-room, whose window stood open. Locked, the cupboard door? It should have been, for the women were thievish as monkeys, but as she put her hand to it she felt it obey her. Next moment she screamed.

The Maori head was there, leaning horribly upon the decanter labelled Brandy. She had laid her hand upon its sparse harsh hair, blond from the action of embalming spices. The decanter could not be moved without somehow touching this sentinel. She rubbed her hands upon the wet breast of her dress, but the sensation of touch had been shocked, she could not so easily rid herself of recollection. As she frantically sought to scour the sensation away, the door opened behind her.

“What's doing?” said her husband's voice.

He came towards her, saw the head still on guard, and looked at her long. She muttered that she was ill, felt faint— He nodded, carelessly lifted up the head by


  ― 181 ―
its hair, and poured out a little spirit, which he held to her.

“The other hand, the other hand!”

It was his right hand, with which he had lifted the head, that held the glass. He smiled slightly, and changed this to the left.

Even so, she could not bring herself to take the glass, not for horror of the head, but because for ten years and more she had never drunk spirits save alone. Even the cajolery of Adare had not been able to prevail over that habit. She said now, irrelevantly:

“This room is very dusty. I wish Milly were back. Why do you not bury that frightful thing?”

He did not answer; his silence made her aware of his reason, and she spoke it aloud.

“To frighten me. To stop me. Sam—oh, God, can you never take the direct way? Can you never speak and say, I will not have this or that? Forbid me, oblige me to do what you would have done. Don't go silently to make me afraid——”

Mournfully, seeking comfort, she looked in his face, and saw starting at the corner of each eye a tear. He said:

“I have to do the way I can.”

“Sam, come here to me.” He came, shambling, head down for shame of the tears. She caught him to her. “Sam, you know I am yours.”

He said, not putting his arms about her, standing like an animal, forehead dropped upon her shoulder:

“Once.”




  ― 182 ―

“Still.”

He shook his head, rolling it on the wet stuff of her dress. The movement might have been a negation, it might have been contrived to clear his eyes of tears.

“But that's not enough. There are twenty-four hours in a day.”

She stood away from him, hands on his shoulders.

“Will you tell me the truth? I know words trouble you, I'll ask only for a yes or no. We are near now; nearer than we have been for a very long time. Let us use the moment. Will you?” He nodded. “You were jealous of Charles.”

It was a statement, but he answered as though it had been a question, with the affirmative of his peasant blood.

“Ay.”

“Did you think I had been unfaithful?”

The man said, speaking painfully and very low:

“Not in your bed.”

“How then?”

He had not the phrase for that. She had to make what she could of a dozen words.

“Always talking—and you've kept off the stuff—got back your looks. The house, too—ordering the dinner.”

“Sam, was it you took a little paper from my work-box? A silly thing, with a list of duties written down?”

“What for did you want to keep it?” She accepted this at its true value: Duties Domestic, Duties Social, destroyed by jealousy, gone. “Him, ordering you about.”




  ― 183 ―

“It meant nothing.”

“I owed him for that.”

She understood that half-statement, too. Where Flusky owed, he paid. The wages of sin—but why should the wages of gaiety, folly, and youth be equalled with these?

“Charles has gone to his death.” She contemplated the fact; he did not deny it. “Through you, as my brother died through me. We struck both for the same reason, to possess each other wholly, to let nobody come between. Sam——” she held his left hand to her face—“we're so unhappy, we've brought so much unhappiness about. What good has it done to anyone, our having loved?”

He put both his arms round her at that and clasped with all his strength. The embrace begged her to unsay what she had said; to murmur, in the small voice that like her body was his only, a confession of faith in their need of each other. She could not; nor could he ask in words. He let her go, fetched a brief sigh, and went out of the room. She stood, fingers twisting together. The glass of brandy which she had refused stood on the table a foot away. She emptied it quickly; poured another from the decanter, now deprived of its warder, and drank that. Then, holding the decanter with a fold of her skirt clutched over it, she departed along the verandah, taking care to walk without noise, and looking sidelong to see that there was nobody about in the paths to observe her.

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