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  ― 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,


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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


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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


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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


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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.




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“—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


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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,


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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?

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