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(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——’ ”

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